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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24. Chapter 14 - Illusion of Victory

Seven people fell out of nowhere onto the grounds adjacent to Twilight’s castle. They landed with the typical lack of grace and smattering of bruises that travel by this method usually entailed. Lucida rapidly disentangled herself from the others and glared at Hypotenuse.

“Do you know what you have done?!” she demanded.

The stoic changeling calmly replied, “I promised my father that everything would be okay. Travelling with you was the only way that I could keep that promise.”

“We can’t be dragging people from alternative Histories along with us!”

“I am not giving you a choice. I will not be forced to go back to my future with you, and if you abandon me here, I will affect this reality.”

Lucida growled, but saw no flaw in her logic. “Okay, you’ve got me there, but if you are to be a member of this team, you have to be prepared to take orders. By common consent, I am the nominal leader of this group. Will you follow my directions?”

“I will. Will you listen if I tell you that there might be a better way?”

“That’s supposedly my specialty. Feel free to remind me if you think I’m not doing things right. Celestia knows I have made one huge blunder already. Meanwhile though, I suggest that you change form; Chrome Changelings aren’t known in this year.”

Hype nodded and green magic flames flared, leaving behind a mauve unicorn mare with a red mane and tail.

Destined, who had already hidden his horn again, commented, “Coat like Mom and mane like Papa Free?”

“Coat like Dad and mane like Mom,” Hype corrected. “This is my preferred alter ego.”

“Right, I forgot that you have the reverse parents,” Destined said.

Lucida grimaced. “That’s going to take a bit of getting used to.”

Blue chuckled. “I want to see Mama Twilight’s reaction to being called ‘Dad’.”

Lucida sighed and shook her head. “Hype should not be around to do that.”

“And what are we going to do about it? You heard her – taking her back is not an option. Bringing her with us is all we can do.”

“I don’t know. I’ll try to think of something.”

“Well, while you’re thinking, let’s find a restaurant. I’m starving as usual.” Blue did not wait for Lucida’s agreement before heading off.

Considering that the only thing that any of them had eaten for a while was one of Derpy’s muffins, the rest were in complete agreement with Blue, and they quickly followed him.

Hype looked around with interest. “Fascinating. So familiar, and yet so different. Ponyville looks so much more rural than I am used to seeing.”

Blue snorted in amusement. “Be glad that’s the only significant difference. You don’t want to visit some of the alternate realities that we have so far.”

“Nevertheless, I would like to hear about them. If I am to be involved, I will need to better understand what I might be required to deal with.”

Destined said, “We’ll fill you in when we have plenty of privacy. Meanwhile, remember that nobody knows you or us. We’re all just a group of strangers passing through.”

“Speaking of which,” Lucida said, “we need to figure out how we will get to Griffonia. There aren’t exactly regular boat trips there in this era, and it’s too far for Des to teleport us there.”

“Why not?” Hype asked.

Destined smirked. “I’m a powerful teleporter for my age, but while I can do it by myself, that’s too far for me to teleport with a passenger as yet.”

Hype looked confused. “Am I missing something? Am I correct in understanding that Destined Path controlled the time-jump while Blue Streak supplied the necessary energy?”

“That’s essentially correct, although I am capable of small time-jumps without Blue,” Destined replied.

“Then what is the essential difference in providing the energy for teleportation instead?” Hype asked.

Destined froze, his eyes widening in shock. Then he face-hoofed and said, “I am such an idiot!

“Oh, great!” Blue said with a roll of his eyes. “I hope you give me a chance to recuperate before we try that.”

Lucida chuckled with some chagrin. “Considering that I asked Des to allow for some travel time, I think we can use it to rest up instead.”

“Rest later, eat now!” Blue insisted even as he opened the door to the Yellow Arches Restaurant.

“Really? Fast food, Blue?” Lucida asked.

“Fast is the word, Lucy. Not waiting for á la carte!” Blue replied as he made a beeline for the order counter.

“Is he always like this after a time-jump?” Hype asked.

Lucida nodded. “First time we practically had to carry him, he was so exhausted by the jump. He’s actually coping a lot better lately because he’s been training himself to store energy better.”

“Is that his special talent then? I note the energy bolt cutie mark.”

“No – that came as a result of an incident that nearly killed him as a youth. However, it’s of benefit to his real special talent which is speed.”

Hype eyed the two trays that were being piled up with food for Blue. How fast can an earth pony be if he constantly eats that much?”

Forest snickered and Glenn grinned. The griffon said, “We wondered the same when we first saw Blue eat. Believe me, he burns it up fast.”

Lucida smiled too. “I’m sure Blue will be happy to give a demonstration of his true ability once he’s recovered. Right now though, I think it’s finally your turn to order.”

# # #

Having decided that they would try teleporting to Griffonia with Blue’s energy boost, they realized that he would still need a good night’s rest and a recharge before they attempted the journey. Ponyville was a little small to provide guest accommodation for seven people, none of whom were couples, although some were prepared to double up in a room, so Destined teleported them all to Canterlot and they booked into a hotel for the night.

Lucida chose Hype to room with her, while Glenn and Forest were given a room to share, and Destined and Blue took another. Watchful insisted on staying with the latter though as her duties required.

“Two stallions sharing a room with a mare – what do you think our parents will say?” Blue asked with a grin.

Watchful rolled her eyes and shape-changed into a stallion instead. “Better?” he asked.

“Not exactly helping,” Destined said with an exaggerated leer.

Watchful glared at him and snorted in annoyance before throwing himself on the couch. “Do what you want, but leave me out of it!”

Destined and Blue laughed while the changeling unicorn’s complexion grew redder from embarrassment.

As Blue headed off to the bathroom to have a shower, Destined said, “Welcome to the time-team, Watchful. Consider yourself hazed.”

The changeling calmed down as he soaked up the positive emotions of his companion. “So, would you prefer I stay a stallion or change back to a mare?”

“Our preference has no bearing on what you decide, but if it makes you feel better, while I think you’re cute, I am totally committed to Silk, and of course Blue is dedicated to Cinder. Which sex you are makes no difference to us.”

Watchful thought about it for a bit and said, “If for no other reason than that Cinder is the jealous type, I think I’ll stay male for tonight. Blue will have complete deniability.”

“Good thinking,” Destined agreed. “Aggravating a dragon is never a good idea. And I get to tell Silk that I slept with a handsome stallion while I was away.”

“Destined!”

The alicorn laughed again. “Lighten up, Watchful. Your loyalty to us and your mission are great, but don’t forget that we’re supposed to be friends too. Learn to give as good as you get.”

Watchful sighed. “Reds are warriors, not comedians.”

“That’s a cliche and you know it. No changeling is a one-trick pony; Papa Free is the ultimate example of that. Be what you want to be. Take it from someone who needed that lesson pounded into his head.”

“I’ll try. It’s not as if my Queen has not said similar things. A hive can’t survive with warriors alone – many different abilities are required, and the relationship of the hives to the rest of Equestria has needed to be adaptable lately too. I think that’s why Queen Carpacia chose me to guard Princess Fidelitas, and now you.”

“Because you’re a good foalsitter?” Destined asked with a smirk.

Watchful snorted. “No. Well, yes, but mostly because I am more likable than the average Red. You see, Fifi chose me more than the Queen did. She noticed how her daughter liked to be with me whenever I was on duty, and so I was given the job regularly. Same with House Path – everypony liked Fifi’s guardian, so I was assigned to the House team.”

“Carpacia’s a smart one,” Destined conceded. “However, I thought she disliked anyone calling Fidelitas by her nickname, Fifi?”

“Not as much as she says, but Fifi seems to like it, so I keep using that name.”

“And that’s something that we prefer too. Besides, today… relatively speaking… you found out how different Fifi is from her mother, and what a bond she has with Dad; you need to be flexible to deal with that. You have the changeling side down pat – you just have to work on the pony side a bit more. As I said before – loosen up and don’t be afraid to have a dig at us occasionally. As Mom likes to say – ‘friendship is magic’, and you’re our friend as well as our teammate.”

Watchful smiled and replied, “I’ll try to take your advice.” Then he shifted his position on the couch into a sexy pose. “So would you prefer to spend the night on the couch with me, my Prince?”

Destined chuckled. “Now you’re getting it. And I’m going to tell Silk that you tried to seduce me.”

“Aw, Des!” Watchful pouted before they both broke out into laughter. “Goodnight, Destined.”

“Goodnight, Watchful.”

# # #

Hype looked thoughtfully out of the window of the room that she was sharing with Lucida. “This feels so strange – the last time that I stayed in Canterlot, it was in a room in the castle next to my parents’ suite, but today I am a stranger.”

“Does it bother you?” Lucida asked.

“No – my father never let her station go to her head, and she brought me up to be the same. It’s merely an odd experience.”

Lucida considered Hype’s reply and then said, “I may not have the ability to taste emotions like you, but I’m pretty sure that something is upsetting you. Do you want to talk about it?”

Hype turned away from the window and stared at Lucida for a long moment before turning back to the view. “I miss my parents.”

“If all goes well, you will soon see them again.”

“I thought that you were unhappy with me returning with you?”

Lucida sighed. “Look – I know what I said, but it was the shock of the moment. Frankly, I understand what you did – self-preservation combined with wanting to comfort your mother… I mean father… is a powerful motivation. Besides, it’s not as if we haven’t been monumental failures at keeping History pure. So far it seems to have worked out for the best, so I’m just going to hope that it will again. Besides, I’m beginning to want to see Pif’s reaction to getting an instant changeling sister.”

The slightest of smiles graced Hype’s lips. “I find myself curious about that too.”

“We come from a herd family, you know? Twilight might not be my biological parent, but she’s as much as a mother to me as Roseclaw. That means that you would be my sister too. How do you feel about that?”

“I have lost a brother,” Hype said softly. “Should I be expected to welcome a sister in his stead?”

“I would never take Wandering’s place, Hype, but I hope that I could be a supportive older sister. I can’t pretend that your life would be the same with us, but I would like it to be a happy one.”

“Thank you. I hoped that I would not be a burden to you. This is more than I could expect.”

“You’re Free’s daughter and yet you’re that pessimistic? You certainly are different from Pif; she gets a bit toooptimistic occasionally. Anyway, you might yet get your brother back. From what I understand of Destined’s time theory, History seems to converge on high-probability events, and it’s likely that Mama Twilight and Papa Free’s attempts to conceive a child might just result in that same foal being born. Um… he was a foal, right?”

Hype nodded. “A male alicorn, but with a changeling’s horn.”

“Oh, that’s right – Twilight said that Wandering was an alicorn. Slipped my mind. Everyone’s going to boggle over yet another alicorn being born if I’m right. I’m even more convinced that Auntie Luna will have one also.”

Auntie Luna?” Hype repeated with a touch of surprise. “You are related to the Princess?”

“Luna is part of Herd Path also. She joined when we were children, so she’s always been Auntie to us, rather than Mama.”

“That… is amazing. Princess Luna has never seemed interested in finding a husband, let alone joining a herd. How came this to be?”

“The House and Herd have always been something special, which is probably one reason why Chrysalis is trying to destroy it. Luna has been extremely happy as part of Herd Path, and when she went into heat, she most enthusiastically had Dad sire a foal for her.”

“I see. More than ever, I see that your History must be righted.” She paused and slowly a genuine smile grew on her face. “And I accept your offer. I will try to be a good sister to you.”

Lucida giggled and hugged Hype. “Welcome to the family!”

# # #

Forest bounced on the bed and said excitedly, “Can you believe it? Only a few weeks at House Path and we’re already involved in a secret mission through time!”

Glenn grinned back and held up his fisted talons for Forest to hoof-bump. “It’s pretty awesome, alright! I can’t wait to find out what happens next!”

Some things are just simpler for some people than others.

# # #

Blue indulged in a long sleep-in the next morning, but pronounced himself fit after a big breakfast. He then headed out of town to get a bit of exercise. The rest of the team accompanied him to a quiet pasture that seemed devoid of witnesses.

“Why did we have to come out here for Blue Streak to exercise?” Hype asked.

“Blue needs a bit more room than most, and we don’t really want witnesses. Besides, we’ll all do a bit of training with him after he’s warmed-up,” Lucida answered.

“What sort of training?”

“Except for Watchful, we’re all warrior-scholars, although Glenn and Forest are only new students. All of us are expected to maintain our fighting skills, so we reserve a certain amount of time each day to train. Blue is our most powerful warrior though, and he needs all of us to give him a decent workout.”

Hype looked at Lucida with surprise. “What? Even against an alicorn?”

“Yep. Last time they fought seriously, Des barely managed to defeat him, and under different circumstances, he might even lose.”

“I find that difficult to believe.”

“Judge for yourself when we spar. Will you join in?”

“I am not a fighter. My parents have trained me in leadership and science.”

“Well, sister, that might have to change when you come home with us. For now though, maybe we can teach you a few self-defense moves.”

“I am a queen changeling – I have powerful defenses already.”

“We’ll see.” Lucida smiled to herself. Her new sister was in for a bit of a shock.

Blue announced, “I’ll warm up with a hundred laps of the pasture. Be ready for a training bout when I’m done.”

“No worries, Blue,” Destined replied, already starting on some stretching exercises.

“A hundred laps?” Hype echoed, eyeing the broad field. “Will the training start before or after dinner time?”

Blue just grinned. “I like to start off slow to loosen up, but I think I’ll be done sooner than you think.”

“I am quite aware of how fast earth ponies can gallop. I think my estimations are conservative.”

“Let me know if you need more data,” Blue said with a wink. Then he took off.

Hype’s jaw dropped and eyes bugged out as Blue sped away. He was halfway around the pasture before she gasped, “What the…?!”

Half a minute later, Blue roared past them and began another lap.

“Better do some warm-up exercises or you won’t be ready. He’s only going to get faster,” Destined advised the stunned changeling.

Hype could not credit her eyes – what she was witnessing was impossible. She started counting the seconds when Blue passed her again. The next lap was faster, and the one after that faster again. Without taking her off the blue blur, she said, “You weren’t exaggerating. How fast can he go?”

“He’s broken the sound barrier several times. We don’t know his limit yet because he’s always surpassed his previous record every time we measure it. Now do you understand why Des had such a hard time fighting Blue?”

Hype nodded wordlessly even as her mane was whipped by the wind of Blue’s passing once again.

“Hype – stop staring and do some stretches. Time to get serious,” Lucida said sternly.

The changeling managed to tear her eyes away from the lightning fast stallion and looked at what her companions were doing. She then tried to imitate them, and Destined came over to guide her to do the exercises more effectively. She was actually engrossed in them when Blue pulled up, barely breathing hard.

“Ah! That feels good! Okay – who’s up for a game of tag?”

“Tag? I thought you were going to practice fighting?” Hype asked.

“We are,” Lucida said. “We’ll be trying our best to take down Blue by any means possible. You may use your horn from a distance if you wish. Until you have some basic self-defense experience, it might be a bit risky for you to do close-up combat.”

Hype agreed fervently, and stood back as the rest of the team arrayed themselves around Blue.

“Go!” he said.

Watchful had been carrying weapons when they had been abducted by Derpy, and she leaped into an immediate attack with them. Lucida took to the air to make diving attacks with her talons outstretched, with Glenn at her wing to try to tag Blue as he dodged her. Destined teleported from spot to spot to fire a stun blast and move out of range again. Forest’s form shimmered with illusion, making him extremely hard to locate, and his own horn blasts seemed to come out of nowhere.

Despite all this, Blue dodged with supernatural ease. Hype couldn’t even follow the action fast enough to make an attack of her own, and she began to wonder if she was going to be a liability rather than an asset if this was the degree of competence needed just to be a student warrior.

After several minutes of this, Blue yelled, “Halt!” All attacks ceased and the griffons came in for a landing. Blue walked over to Forest and pushed the colt’s mane away from his face to reveal a bloody cut.

“You came in too close there, Forest. You don’t get points for bravado – you need to think. Your superior attack is from a distance, so give the close-in fighters room to work. Up close, you might help limit your enemy’s movements, or they might simply go through you instead. We don’t want to have to tell your parents that you died doing something silly, do we?”

Forest shook his head. “Sorry, Blue.”

“Don’t apologize – just remember next time.” Blue looked at Destined. “First aid for our student, please.”

Destined stepped up to Forest to apply a healing spell to the cut which closed up without a mark, leaving only a little blood to indicate where it had been.

Meanwhile Blue went over to the overwhelmed Hype. “I noticed that you could not seem to decide what to do.”

Hype raised her hooves helplessly. “I could not even follow the action, let alone act. I can’t do it!”

Blue shook his head. “No, you just lack training. We chucked you into the deep end to show you what you could be up against, but you saw how our young students still managed to put up a good fight. Once you have had sufficient training, you too will be able to act. Part of what you need to learn is stuff that you will practice until it’s automatic, so you can concentrate on your combat moves. From here on, we’ll start basic training for you. If you are serious about it, you won’t be found wanting when it counts.”

“I’ve never had anything to do with fighting – are you sure I can even do this?”

“Forest didn’t either, but even as a novice, he’s not bad. I think a changeling princess could do at least as good, don’t you think?” Blue gave her a serious look as he raised an eyebrow questioningly.

Hype gulped and nodded. “I’ll try my best.”

Blue grinned. “Great! That’s all we ask. Now, let’s get you started.”

“Aren’t you tired?” she asked curiously.

“I can fight all day in armor if necessary. It takes an enormous energy drain like time-travel to tire me out.”

“Could anyone ever hope to match you?” Hype asked as Watchful came over.

“Let me start Hypotenuse’s training, Blue. As a changeling warrior, I think I have a better idea of suitable methods for her.”

“She’s all yours, Watchful. Have fun.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” Hype wondered before focusing her attention on her new trainer.

# # #

That evening, they made the decision to make a small time-jump to bridge the days that they would otherwise have spent travelling to Griffonia. After shopping for provisions and equipment the next morning, they made the time-jump and then allowed some recovery time for Blue, spending one last night in Ponyville. They then prepared to teleport to Griffonia.

“Because the only ponies that were officially in Griffonia at this time were Twilight, Path, the ambassador and his staff, and the airship crew, some of us need to be careful not to be seen,” Lucida said. “Therefore Des will take us to the forest that is facing the House Path castle, although at this time it belongs to Ravenwing of course. We’ll make camp there and use it as our base of operations. Is everyone ready?”

After everyone affirmed their readiness, Lucida said, “Okay, Des – you’re up.”

Destined looked at Blue and said, “I don’t think this will be significantly different from when we use your energy to power the time-jump, but don’t be surprised if it feels odd anyway.”

“Just get on with it, Des,” Blue replied.

Without further ado, Destined powered up his horn, and the group disappeared in the typical flash-bang of teleportation….

… and reappeared in a clearing amidst a forest.

“Well, that was a lot easier than I thought,” Destined commented. “How are you, Blue?”

“Hardly fazed, Des. Apparently teleporting a quarter of the way around the world is nothing compared to time-travelling.”

“Something to keep in mind for future needs,” Lucida commented. “Anyway, now that we’re here, we must take all precautions. Although it’s unlikely that anygriff will come here, we must prepare for the possibility. Disguises, please.”

The two changelings shifted into griffon forms. Forest used his illusion ability to take on the appearance of a griffon with the same colors as his pony form. Destined cast a disguise spell on himself, and a ‘Do Not Notice’ spell on Lucida that caused observers to fail to realize that she had a pony’s hindquarters instead of a feline one.

“Aren’t you going to be disguised too?” Hype asked Blue.

He shook his head. “Maintaining a disguise spell is hard for Des, and I won’t need it. I’ll just pretend to be your servant.”

Hype blinked in confusion. “Why would you be our servant?”

Lucida looked at her curiously. “You mean that you don’t know? Earth ponies were kept as slaves in Griffonia before they were emancipated through the efforts of House Path and King Glimfeather.”

“Equestria has been at an armed truce with Griffonia for years. King Glimfeather died years ago; King Ravenwing now rules. We are unaware of any ponies in that kingdom other than the occasional emissaries to his court.”

“That sounds like an awfully familiar situation. It seems without House Path, Ravenwing will always end up assassinating Glimfeather,” Lucida said. “Anyway, Blue was the son of a slave couple who were killed years before this day, but our parents adopted him after gaining the House. He is familiar with the practices of the time, and he should be able to pull off the role.” She eyed the weapons that Blue was carrying. “Although perhaps not while he looks like a warrior.”

“I’ll pack them away in the saddlebags,” Blue replied. “Don’t worry; I won’t blow my cover unless any of you are threatened.”

“Good. Anyway, time to set up camp. It’s already afternoon here, so we’ll rest overnight. Tomorrow is the day of the honor duel between Dad and Ravenwing, and that’s when the fun really begins!”

# # #

“You can’t come to the arena with us, Blue,” Lucida said firmly.

“Why not?” Blue replied with a frown.

“Back in this time, ponies were not allowed in the city. They were always the dirty secret of the nobility, and almost always kept on their estates. Even posing as our servant would be very risky.”

Blue fumed but could not counter that argument.

“Besides, we need someone to watch our encampment,” Destined added.

Blue let out his breath in a deep sigh and waved them off dismissively. “Just go, okay?”

Lucida hated to do that, but she had a more pressing reason not to bring Blue along. He was dedicated to his foster father so fiercely that it was likely that he would react badly to watching Path being killed in the arena. Satisfied that he would stay, she turned to the others and said, “Let’s go. The honor duel will start soon.”

They spread their wings, but before they could take off, Forest spoke up.

“Hey, guys! Have you forgotten that I only look like a griffon?”

“Oops!” Destined said. “I can levitate you all the way. Just have your wings imitate ours so your flight doesn’t look unnatural.”

“I can do that.”

“You’re not afraid of heights, are you?”

“Nah. Dad used to take me on joy-flights all the time.”

“Won’t your magic show, Des?” Lucida asked.

“The glow is a side-effect of using magic, and it can be suppressed if you have sufficient ability.”

“Ah, good. Okay, let’s try this again. Time to go!”

They all took off and headed towards the city. Lucida watched Forest’s illusory wing-action, but could not fault it. The young unicorn had not been boasting about his skill with illusions, and she was reassured that he would not be detected as a fake. At least, not that way.

Destined took the lead, with Lucida bringing up the rear. Both of them were very familiar with the layout of the city, and the approaches to the arena. Watchful had familiarized herself as much as she could for the short time that she had been assigned to the team, but kept to the middle of the flock so that the two newcomers were safely bracketed. Both Forest and Hype looked about with keen interest during the flight.

Destined took them into one of the public galleries that he knew would have a good view of where Path, Free, and Roseclaw would be, and they jostled with the spectators for preferred vantage points. They were careful to keep Forest between them so that his true nature would not be betrayed by touching his illusory form. Because they had allowed a safety margin, they watched three matches before the honor duel was announced. At this point, their attention was riveted on Path as he departed King Glimfeather’s private reserve seating area and made his way down the steps to the arena, pausing only to have a word with a couple of the griffons standing in the corridor that led under the seats. He was let onto the arena floor and the master of ceremonies announced the honor duel.

Despite the fact that Path had told the tale of his battle with Ravenwing in great detail, it was still painful to watch him being slowly ripped to shreds by his challenger. It was obvious that Ravenwing was stretching things out to make it as painful for Path as possible before he finished off the pony, but that was supposed to be his undoing. The moment came when Path turned and made as if to buck the griffon as he dived at him. However, no glow of magic surrounded his hooves, and Path’s face looked shocked at the failure.

Ravenwing disdainfully dodged the abortive buck before wheeling tightly around and pouncing on the unfortunate pony. Talons tore open Path’s hide, and a massive spurt of blood came from a severed artery. Path staggered and fell to the arena floor as Ravenwing landed nearby to watch with a sneer on his beak.

Lucida had to turn away, and she noticed that Destined had done so already. Forest apparently had been sick, although the screaming crowd had not noticed, fortunately. Glenn had his eyes jammed shut. Both changelings stoically kept watching, although there was no point anymore. Whatever had changed in this History had already happened. Watching Path die was not going to help.

“We’re leaving now,” Lucida told the others, and they made their way out of the arena.

It was a quiet and thoughtful group that made its way back to their camp and settled down next to a fretting Blue Streak.

“What happened?” he immediately demanded.

“Exactly what Twilight described,” Lucida replied. “Dad went to use his Thunderhoof technique, and nothing happened. Ravenwing then killed him.”

“And you have no idea why?”

“That’s what we’re going to discuss.” Lucida turned to the others. “Did any of you see anything that looked unusual?”

Hype said, “The only thing that would have looked out of place would have been this Thunderhoof technique that you described. Everything proceeded exactly as I would have expected otherwise.”

“Same here,” Destined replied.

“Don’t look at me – I stopped watching soon after Ravenwing started cutting Path up.” Forest shivered. “All that blood…!”

“I have a question,” Watchful said. “Is it possible that whatever was changed, it happened before Path reached the arena?”

Lucida considered the question and nodded. “Yes, although the arena would seem to be the best place for Chrysalis’ agent to do something due to the large crowd to blend in with.”

“Path was mostly isolated from the crowd until he left the private seating area though. If it happened at the arena, it would most likely have happened before he reached it or after he left it. I noticed that he was out of view very briefly while making his way down. Is it possible that something happened then?”

Lucida shrugged. “Anything is possible, I suppose. Do you suspect that’s where whatever happened was done?”

“I have three possibilities – the first being that it happened before they reached the arena, which would make our job very difficult because it would require us to look for something unusual over a large period of time and in many places. The second is that it happened as they joined the crowd as they entered the arena. This narrows the focus a great deal, but would require us to observe in difficult conditions. The third is when Path left the seats to head for the arena floor. This would be the easiest to observe for anything unusual, and I would recommend that we try eliminating it as a possibility first.”

Lucida admired Watchful’s thorough assessment of the situation. Although the changeling was young, it seemed that Queen Polistae knew what she was doing when she had assigned the drone to them. She nodded in approval. “Okay, this is what we’re going to do. We’ll jump back in time and return to the arena, but take up positions where we can clearly observe Dad’s movements from the private seating. Blue, are you ready?”

Blue nodded. “I’ve packed everything up, and I have tons of spare energy for a tiny hop like that.”

“Everyone grab something to carry and prepare for a time-jump,” Lucida instructed.

Glenn obeyed, but asked, “Why don’t we just leave everything here if we’re just going to go back a few hours? The camp will be there for us, won’t it?”

Destined replied, “We’d be dealing with a bit of paradox if that was true because we would be there also. Seeing as we didn’t meet our future selves, it’s likely that probability changes will send us to a slightly different time-stream. Different probability – different History. So if we want our equipment, we better play it safe and bring it along with us.”

“You remember that I did see my younger self on our first time-trip, don’t you?” Blue reminded Destined.

“I remember. I never said it wasn’t possible; I just take the most cautious approach to time-travel due to its complexity.”

A short time-jump later, they were winging their way back to the city, sans Blue of course. This time they managed to get various seats positioned to observe the entire route down from the reserved seating area from various vantage points. They saw Path pass out of the restricted area and walk over to the steps. He made his way down them to the corridor where several griffons waited. One merely indicated the way to Path, another ignored him, while the last talked to him for a few moments and gave him something before he entered the arena. After that, the fight played out exactly the same way as before, but while most watched to the end, Forest refused to watch any further.

The team traveled back to the campsite once more to discuss what they had seen.

“I’m stumped,” Destined said. “If anything happened then, I didn’t see it.”

“Me neither,” Lucida admitted.

“Umm… is it normal for griffons to talk to the duelists before they go out onto the arena?” Glenn asked.

“Totally normal,” Lucida answered. “Many griffs like to give last minute encouragement to friends or favorites. You heard how many supporters Dad had among the crowd. I suppose one was particularly enthusiastic.”

“And what about the object that the griff gave Path?” Watchful asked.

“Good luck tokens. Also very common,” Lucida replied.

“Okay, common, but did Path originally get such a token?”

Lucida blinked a couple of times and then looked over to Destined. “Do you recall Dad ever mentioning that?”

Destined shook his head. “I suppose it might have been trivial enough that he never thought to mention it later.”

Watchful said, “I want to check out that token and the griff who gave it to him. If anything happened, that’s where and when.”

“Okay. How do you want to go about this?”

“I’m going to make my way into the corridor and get close enough to the griff to detect if he’s a changeling. I’m not sure if I can do anything about the token though, and if I get too close, he will notice that I’m a changeling too,” Watchful replied.

Destined said, “I can use an invisibility spell to get right up close to Dad.”

Watchful shook his head. “No. If that token is responsible for cancelling Path’s magic, it might do the same for you.”

Destined nodded. “You could be right. If the token has a nullstone in it, I would be exposed.”

“What’s a nullstone?” Forest asked.

Lucida answered, “It’s what they use to make the rings that they put on the horns of criminal unicorns so that they can’t use spells to resist the law.”

“So it just breaks spells?”

“Yes. That’s all it needs to do.”

“Let me go check out the token. My illusions aren’t spells.”

Hype was startled by that statement. “How can that be? Even alicorns can only do illusions with magic spells.”

Forest grinned at Hype and replied smugly, “Not if your sire’s a changeling. My sister, Dandelion, inherited Dad’s shape-changing ability, my other sister can sense emotions, and I got the illusion ability. It’s a natural trait, not a spell!”

Hype gaped in surprise. “Dad told me about her changeling friend, Cogs, and how she helped him conceive foals with his wife. The foals were very young though when the Blue Changeling purge occurred, so she never heard from them again after they fled. Dad would have been fascinated by that development.”

“Mom certainly was,” Destined confirmed. “Cogs’ family has always been close friends with ours, which is one reason why Forest is here with us now.”

Watchful turned to Forest and said, “You can pose as another well-wisher. Talk to Path after he has received the token and try to remove it.”

Forest’s smile grew wider. “I can do better than that. I can put an illusory token of my own and cover up my taking the real token.”

Lucida frowned. “Sounds tricky. Are you sure that you can do that?”

Forest’s smile fell, and he blushed. “Umm, yeah. I kind of got too good at that sort of thing. That’s what eventually led me into the situation that nearly got me and my parents killed, and I swore off it.”

“Oh. Sorry if I brought up old wounds.”

Forest shook his head. “No – it was all my fault, and I will never forget that lesson. I don’t go around deceiving anyone nowadays.”

“Not even in this situation?” Lucida prompted.

“This is righting a wrong, not tricking someone. I know the difference.”

Lucida nodded in satisfaction. “Okay, that’s what we’ll do.”

“I’m coming with you this time,” Blue announced.

“What? Why?” Lucida queried.

“If that is the solution to our problem, we can leave immediately for the future. I also want to watch my father defeat Ravenwing.”

Lucida stared at her brother for a long moment before sighing. “You’re not going to budge on this, are you?”

“Nope.”

Lucida turned to Destined and asked, “Can you manage another illusion and levitate two ponies at the same time?”

“I’ll just draw on Blue’s power like I do for the time-jumps and teleporting,” Destined replied confidently.

Lucida drew in a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “I seem to be out of arguments. Alright, get him disguised and let’s go.”

# # #

Watchful had no difficulty taking up a position in the corridor. While fans of the fighters were apparently welcome to come down and give them encouragement, it was no wonder that it was not too crowded there – the view of the arena was terrible! However, that was the least of Watchful’s worries. She had her eyes on three other things – Path’s progress down from the seats, the griff who was going to give Path the token, and Forest nervously waiting next to the possible agent. Unfortunately their target was just a little too far away for Watchful to sense if the griff was a changeling due to the arena drowning her in a flood of emotions, and she did not wish to risk getting closer as yet. However, the griff would have to come back her way, and she would get a good chance then.

When Path came close to their suspect, the griff stepped up and said, “On behalf of those who have witnessed your growing popularity, I wish to present you with this good luck token. Will you accept it?”

Now there’s a statement that has a huge double meaning!’ Watchful mused.

Being unfamiliar with Griffonian customs at that time, Path decided to just go with it. “Okay,” he said as he bowed his head for the griffon to put it on him.

The suspect hung the token around Path’s neck and smiled with a little too much satisfaction. “I am sure that this fight will end most gratifyingly.”

 

 

I bet you are,’ Watchful thought.

The griffon then headed Watchful’s way, but Forest moved up before Path could go.

“On behalf of the friends that you made at the pub, I want to present you with a token of ours too,” Forest said with a genuine smile.

Despite the situation, Path was charmed by the more honest attitude of the young griff, and he smiled and bowed his head.

To ensure that Path did not notice his token was missing by the lack of weight around his neck, Lucida had stopped long enough at the nearby market to pick up something suitable. Forest made a show of putting it on, while disguising the blade that slit the cord that held the other token. He slipped it off while adding the illusion that it was still there. That illusion would quickly fade without his presence, but by the time it did, Path would be in the arena, and no one would notice. Forest then hurried to join Watchful.

The Red Changeling had not been idle. She had stepped back out of notice until the griffon passed her. As they had suspected, it was a Blue Changeling, and that meant almost certainly the enemy agent. She started following him through the corridors towards the exit. With an honor duel just starting, every griffon’s attention was focused there, and the area was empty but for the two of them.

Just before he reached the exit, Watchful called out, “Stop right there!”

The agent stopped, turned, and glared balefully at Watchful before a spark of recognition lit his eyes.

“What is a Red Changeling doing here?”

Watchful stopped at a cautious distance from the agent. “I could ask the same of a Blue Changeling, but I already know why you’re here, minion of Chrysalis.”

The agent smirked. “And you think you can handle me by yourself, fool?”

“She doesn’t have to!” Forest declared as he trotted up to join Watchful.

“You are still outmatched, but I’m not wasting my time with you.” The agent turned to exit the building, but was struck down by a bolt of magic. His griffon form faded to reveal his natural appearance.

Destined stepped into the corridor and said, “And we’re definitely not wasting time subduing you, murderer.”

By prior arrangement, if the agent went down the corridor as expected, Destined would make his way outside of the arena and cover the exit and await confirmation provoked by Watchful. He would then take the agent by surprise and subdue him. The plan went off without a hitch. Hype followed Destined soon after.

“So, do you think you can enthrall him as we discussed,” Destined asked Hype.

“As I have said, I have never done that before, so I don’t know. I will, however, render him harmless.”

The Blue Changeling groaned as he already started to regain consciousness. Destined had not hit him too hard as they needed the agent to take orders as soon as he was enthralled. Hype stood over him, and her horn lit up.

The agent started wailing, but the cries rapidly died away until he slumped limply to the floor again.

Destined said, “That didn’t seem right.” He walked up to agent and lowered his horn to the changeling. A moment later, he raised his head and said, “He’s dead.”

Watchful frowned. “I thought that enthrallment was supposed to be harmless?”

Hype coolly looked at her. “It probably is, but as I said, I don’t know how to do that, so I rendered him harmless by extracting all his love energy. He will trouble us no more.”

“That’s mighty cold, Hype,” Destined said.

“You need to be more pragmatic,” Hype replied. “What would you have done with him if I had enthralled him? We cannot take him with us, nor can we leave him here. He remained a threat for as long as he was alive. Now he’s not a threat anymore.”

Destined understood the logic, but marveled at how different this child of Queen Free was from Pif. “What’s done is done. I’ll get rid of the body.” He teleported it far from the city, deep into the forest where none but scavengers would find the corpse. “Now, I don’t know about you, but I intend to watch my father’s victory, if we aren’t too late.”

“I haven’t heard the thunder that’s supposed to accompany his special attack,” Watchful replied. “I think we’ll be in time.”

They all managed to get back to arena before Path unleashed his Thunderhoof to defeat Ravenwing. They all heaved a sigh of relief when they knew that they had been successful. Actually, Forest heaved a little more than a sigh. The sight of all the blood still sickened him, and Ravenwing’s pulverized appendage pushed him over the edge once more.

Blue was ecstatic to have witnessed his father’s great victory, and Destined and Lucida were not much less delighted. The positive emotions had a buoyant effect on the changelings in their party as they headed away from the arena to somewhere secluded where they could head back to a future which they fervently hoped would be back to normal. Or at least normal to five of them. Hype was wondering what her parents were going to think of gaining a new daughter, and for the first time since her great adventure began, the Chrome Changeling princess started to feel nervous. She knew that the others were not comfortable with the way she had dealt with the agent, but she could only surmise that it was because of the way they were raised. But if they had the same parents, how much different were that Twilight and Free going to be from the ones that she had known all her life?

# # # # # # # # #

 
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