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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25. Chapter 15 - Late Night Conversations

Glenn sidled up to Watchful as they headed out of the city. “You make a very beautiful griffon.”

Watchful looked at him with surprise. “Thanks, I guess.”

“Don’t you like being called pretty?” Glenn asked, a little put off by the tepid reaction from the changeling.

“It’s not that, but when you can change into whatever you want to look like, things such as beauty are of little relevance to a changeling personally. Of course, if I want to impress someone, it becomes important.”

“Oh? Then why did you become a beautiful she-griff when an ordinary-looking cock would possibly have been less conspicuous?”

Watchful opened her beak to answer, but paused without replying for a long moment. “I… don’t really know. Female is my usual default form, but I really had no need to make myself particularly attractive.”

“Does it bother you?”

“As a guardian, I need to suit my form to the need. As you said, an ordinary cock would have been ideal. That I chose an attractive hen instead means that I subconsciously influenced the choice.”

“So, does that mean that you like someone?”

While Watchful’s cheek feathers were too dark to show a blush, the inside of her ears were a different story, and Glenn found it fascinating that a changeling emulated a griffon to that degree. He found it even more telling that she did not reply to his query.

“Are you going to stay like that?” he asked instead.

“No sense wasting energy transforming until I’m sure I won’t need this form anymore.”

Glenn smiled. “Fine by me.”

Watchful just flew on in silence.

The team alighted in a secluded spot and Destined dropped the spells that concealed Blue and Forest, while Hype resumed her natural form. However, for reasons she kept to herself, Watchful stayed a griffon.

 

 

“Everyone gather together for the teleport back to Equestria,” Destined instructed them. The alicorn drew on Blue’s energy stores, and a moment later they were back in a field outside of Ponyville.

“Are you ready to make the time-jump, Blue?” Lucida asked.

“I’ve built up quite a store of energy today. I’ve plenty left for Des.”

“Good. Des – aim for a few minutes after we left.”

Destined nodded. “Okay, here we go!”

The time vortex opened up and they plunged into the familiar chaos once more.

As they disentangled themselves from their landing pile, Hype asked, “Is it always like this when you travel through time?”

“Sadly, yes,” Destined answered. “With absolutely no sense of physical direction in the vortex, there’s no way that we can orient ourselves to make a landing on all four legs. Only my very brief jumps have left me still almost exactly as I was oriented when I departed. Jumps of several years mean anything can happen.”

Hype looked around, curious to see how the new present varied from hers, and she frowned a little in puzzlement. “I thought you said that Ponyville was very different in your time?”

The others were looking around now, and looks of dismay broke out all around.

“Uh-oh. Something is very wrong,” Blue said.

“You said a mouthful, Blue,” Lucida replied.

To the best of their knowledge, Ponyville looked no different from when they had left on their mission.

“We’re going to Twilight’s castle. We’ve obviously missed something,” Lucida decided. As they started moving off in that direction, Lucida turned to Hype and said, “This is why we interrogate our enemies instead of executing them.”

“I still don’t know how to enthrall a changeling, so how would we have gotten him out of the city to question him?”

“Did you even try to enthrall him? It seems to be a common ability for queens.”

Hype did not answer, and Lucida decided not to press her anymore. It was not as if she was an official part of the team even though she had agreed to cooperate with them.

Spike was surprised to see them walk in without having seen them walk out, but he did not stop them from heading for the office where they had been talking with Twilight. The door was open, and they walked in unannounced. They found Twilight still there, but being comforted by Free. She was crying with her head buried in his chest feathers, so only he saw the group arrive. He was about to query them when he noticed that Hype was among them.

“Twilight, love – look up,” he said softly.

Twilight snuffled and looked around to see her daughter stepping towards her. “Hypotenuse!” she exclaimed, and she leaped to her hooves and flung herself at Hype. “I thought you were gone forever.”

“I thought so too, Dad. I’m sorry, but something has gone wrong. We went back in time and stopped Path from being killed in the arena, but nothing seems to have changed. We don’t know what has happened.”

Twilight blinked a lot and wiped away her tears with one hoof before she replied. “What are you talking about, Hype? Path wasn’t killed in the arena – he was assassinated in King Argent’s throne room. You know that!”

Free stepped up to his wife and daughter and said, “It’s not as if I haven’t told you that story several times, how Path died in my arms with a crossbow bolt through his chest.”

Lucida exchanged glances with Destined and Blue, and they came to the same conclusion as each other. “There was a second agent,” Lucida spoke for all of them.

“What are you talking about?” Free asked with a frown.

The time-team members gave Free a good look, and it became obvious that this alternate present’s version of the Chrome Changeling was significantly different from the one they were most familiar with. Their Free Agent had spent time optimizing his griffon form and training it to a large degree, although not quite as much as one of the alternate timeline Free’s had done. However, this Free definitely had not. He was no bigger than Twilight, and certainly was not as muscular. Just as telling was his body language. While their Free almost always had a smile and slightly carefree attitude, this one was serious and seemed to be clinging to Twilight almost much as she had been to him. It was looking more obvious why Hype was so different from Pif.

Lucida explained, “When we were here before, Twilight told us how Path did not survive his honor duel with Ravenwing, so we went back in time to find out why. We discovered an agent of Queen Chrysalis who blocked Path’s Thunderhoof technique which would have defeated Ravenwing. We neutralized his interference and restored History to what should have happened. Or so we thought.”

Free said, “Yes, that was a magnificent victory by Path. Perhaps if hadn’t been so great, he might not have been called to the court by the king to be assassinated there,” Free said bitterly.

“Can you describe to us what happened? If we have those details, we can figure out how to prevent Path from being killed.”

“You can save Path? Truly?” Free asked with frightening intensity.

“Yes, we should be able to,” Destined replied.

“Who are you people?” Free demanded.

“Twilight didn’t tell you?” Destined queried with some surprise.

“She has been too upset to tell me more than some confusing talk about time-travelers and fixing time.”

Destined nodded. “She’s right. We’re from an alternate timeline. Long Path is my father, and Twilight is my mother.”

Lucida said, “And Long Path is my father too, but with Roseclaw as my mother.”

Free gasped. “You’re Path’s children? That’s how his life was supposed to go?”

Twilight grasped Free’s arm. “Free, if they change time, we’ll never see our daughter again!” she wailed.

Free looked at Hype and asked, “Is that true?”

Hype nodded sadly. “Yes, Mom, it’s true. You and Dad never had me in their timeline. That’s why I left with them. I promised Dad that it would be alright. You two will still be there, and I’ll be there too when we get back from fixing time.”

“But that Twilight won’t know you!” protested the alicorn.

Hype moved up to hug her parents. “I will know you, and I believe that they will feel our affinity. Not even time can erase our love for each other!”

Twilight started crying again, and Free started sniffling as well, but this time they seemed to be accepting of what she had told them.

When it seemed that they had calmed down, Lucida said, “Please give us an exact description of the events that led up to Path’s death.”

Free sighed and nodded. “Well, you know how Path won the honor duel. King Argent summoned us to his court to formally pass him Ravenwing’s title and possessions because he was of Argent’s House. It seems Ravenwing was a very sore loser though, because he pulled out a crossbow that he had hidden under the wing that Path hadn’t ruined. He shot Path before anyone realized what was happening, and then made his escape. He didn’t get far before Argent’s guards caught him though. He was dragged back to the court, condemned on the spot, and promptly executed. Fat lot of good that it did Path though. He had already died despite Twilight’s best efforts to heal him.”

“The damage was far too great to repair,” Twilight said disconsolately.

Free continued. “The diplomatic team was immediately withdrawn from Griffonia, but despite Argent’s apology on behalf of his kingdom, the diplomatic damage was too great, and the Equestrian nobles refused to have further dealings with Griffonia. Things went from bad to worse when Argent lost power due to the loss of status caused by Ravenwing, and the new king effectively renewed hostilities between our nations. Since Chrysalis invaded the Crystal Kingdom, Equestria has been in an armed stand-off with two big enemies.”

Lucida nodded gravely. “Neither of those events happened for us. The thing that stands out most is that Ravenwing never tried to kill Path in the court that day in our History, and somehow I suspect that he didn’t this time either. Considering our enemy’s tactics, I believe a changeling replaced Ravenwing and left him to suffer the consequences.”

Twilight gasped. “Ravenwing always protested that he didn’t do it, right up to the moment he was executed. With the entire court witnessing the murder, of course no one believed him, but if it was a changeling, none of us would know otherwise.”

“He was too far away for me to sense his true nature,” Free said. “An agent of Chrysalis, you said? I won’t stop until I kill that bitch!”

“Your other self wants the same,” Destined reassured him. “We’re going to make sure you get that chance.”

“But not today,” Blue said. “I’m too depleted to make another jump right now.”

Hype said, “Dad, Mom, can my friends stay here at the castle tonight? Blue needs to store up energy for the time-jump.”

“If it gives me one more day with my daughter, then certainly!” Twilight replied.

“And you can tell us all about this alternate time of yours over dinner,” Free added.

# # #

“Considering all that you have told us, I agree that History should be righted. Anything that will bring back Path, I can stand behind,” Free said.

“Our daughter has to leave us though,” Twilight pointed out sourly. “And Wandering has not even been conceived in their timeline.”

“Sorry, Twi, but as I see it, we will still have our daughter, just in another reality, and they’ve told us that their version of us are trying for a foal. I think Wandering might be a little later, but he’ll still be born.”

“Glad to hear it,” Wandering Free said with a smirk. Like most teenagers, he had little concept of his mortality, let alone the non-existence of a lesser probability timeline. Mostly he felt that he was missing out on an adventure that his sister was enjoying.

The colt had joined the family for dinner, and the time-team got their first look at him. He was an alicorn with a dark red coat and a mane that was blue streaked with white. The most obvious evidence of his heritage though was his horn. It was twisted like a changeling queen’s, but evidently it didn’t affect his magic.

Destined said, “If Mom has a male foal with your colors, we’ll insist on naming him after you. However, since he’d be born into our herd, he would be Wandering Path, not Wandering Free.”

“I can live with that.”

“You obviously have some of your Father’s heritage,” Lucida said. “Did you gain anything else from him?”

Green magic flames flared around Wandering, and Lucida found herself regarding her doppelganger.

“You could say that,” Wandering replied in Lucida’s voice.

“He’s like my sister,” Forest said.

“She’s an alicorn changeling too?” Wandering asked with evident interest.

“No, she’s a pegasus. And she’s married.”

Wandering looked disappointed, and Lucida could not help but chuckle, even though there had never been any chance for the colt. “Could you stop looking like me now, please?”

Wandering obliged with a laugh.

“So, what do you plan to do?” Free asked.

Lucida replied, “From what you have described, I believe we can intercept the agent before he waylays Ravenwing. At worst, we’re pretty familiar with the castle, so we should be able to stop him there with a minimum of fuss. Just in case something goes wrong, we’ll have one of us standing guard over Dad anyway to block a crossbow bolt.”

“You make it sound easy.”

“In some ways, it is. If we didn’t have to worry about influencing the past, it would be simple. Foreknowledge is a powerful advantage.”

“Well, when you fix things, tell your Free that he’s a lucky bastard,” Free said with something like the grin that they were familiar with.

“We’ll do that, I promise.”

Conversation lapsed into less serious matters before they eventually decided to call it a night. Hype showed them which guest rooms they could use, but of course they did not need any other help because this castle was identical to the one that three of them had spent a large portion of their lives in, and even Glenn and Watchful knew it by now. A good night’s rest was indicated for all.

# # #

Rest eluded Hype, and she eventually gave up trying to sleep. Recent events kept swirling through her mind, but perhaps the most disturbing was the return home. Her decision to leave behind the world and parents that she knew had been very much spur of the moment, but once made, she had resigned herself to it. However, here she was, back with a mother and sire that she knew, even if the past was marginally altered. Would she have the courage to leave it again?

She wandered out of her room, heading for the balcony in the hope of the cool night air clearing her mind. As she approached the doors though, she noticed the silhouette of another person already out there. She cautiously approached, failing to even get a hint of a taste of the person’s emotions to identify them. Then they moved out of the shadow and into the full moonlight, and Hype was able to identify who it was, and why she could not sense their emotions. She stepped out onto the balcony and walked over to join them.

“Can’t you sleep either?” Hype asked.

Griffon ears swiveled her way, although Watchful kept her eyes on the moonlit scenery. “I’m not tired, so I keep watch.”

Hype snickered. “Dad’s castle might just be the safest place in Equestria, and that’s even taking Canterlot Castle into account. Between Dad’s spells and the Royal Guards, I think you can stand down for the night.”

Watchful grunted, and then replied, “Then what would I do with myself tonight?”

“Something else is bothering you besides the safety of your charges, isn’t it?”

Watchful did not answer, but the set of her beak grew firmer. That prompted another question from Hype.

“Why are you still in griffon form? And don’t give me that pile of horsefeathers about not wasting energy in changing. I’m not sure if they bought that explanation, but you’re not fooling another changeling.”

For a very long moment it seemed that Watchful was not going to reply, but eventually she sighed and said, “I don’t really know.”

Hype rolled her eyes. “Just how young a drone are you? How can you be so inexperienced to understand what you’re feeling?”

“I was chosen because my abilities suited the task, not because of my age,” Watchful replied defensively.

“So, you’re young and serious about your assignment, therefore you get blindsided when someone expresses interest in you personally,” Hype concluded.

Watchful turned to glare at Hype. “I’m their guardian, not their love interest!”

“Your words say one thing, but your form says another. Glenn is genuinely attracted to you, and you don’t know how to handle it.”

“But Glenn is attracted to Lucida!” Watchful hissed. “He can’t be attracted to me too!”

“Glenn is a young male who also has some confusion about the opposite gender. From what I have heard about Lucida, he likes her because she’s pretty and smart, but she’s several years older than him. Then you come along and you’re pretty too, and attractive in other ways, but close to his age. Of course he’s going to feel something, not to mention he’s probably confused about his feelings too. However, he’s not here and you are, so how do you react?”

“My Queen has given me a task! I can’t afford to have my feelings involved!”

“What a pile of cow patties! Do you think your Queen didn’t know what she was doing when assigning you? You’re not with them purely as a guardian; you’re there as part of a team, and the best teams have close relationships. How close depends entirely up to you. If Glenn really likes you, and you really like the taste of those feelings, give him a chance. Maybe it will work out, and maybe it won’t, but there’s no real reason for you not to try.”

Watchful turned away from Hype and returned her gaze to the scenery. The changeling princess let her ponder that for a while before she asked her another question.

“So, what do you really think of Glenn’s feelings?”

A smile slowly grew on Watchful’s beak. “They were delicious, and I want to taste them again.”

Just taste them?”

Watchful closed her eyes and sighed. “No, I want to feel them too.”

Hype chuckled. “Given the number of Harvesters that I know that have ended up in serious long-term relationships with ponies, I think your odds are good. Just because Glenn is a griffon instead should not make a significant difference. Even though you come from a warrior hive, there’s still plenty of room for love.”

“And what of Lucida? How do you think she will feel if Glenn turns to a fake griffon instead of a real hippogriff?”

“Do you think Lucida is that shallow? Anyway, if she has any feelings for Glenn, she’s an adult who can make her own moves to show her interest in him. And remember that she comes from a herd, so the concept of multiple partners is hardly novel to her.”

Watchful grimaced. “I don’t know if either of us is interested that way. I’m still trying to get it through my head that I find Glenn appealing.”

“Well, I’ll just leave you with one last piece of advice then – relationships take time to build, and Glenn has barely started getting interested in you. Time might answer all your questions for you. Meanwhile, show Glenn some interest in return – he’s not exactly being subtle with his intentions.”

Watchful nodded. “I’ll try. It would be helpful if I knew what I was doing though. I’m a warrior, not a… whatever this is.”

“Guess what, Watchful – none of us know what we’re doing the first time. Just deal with it.”

The Red Changeling gave the Chrome Changeling a skeptical look. “How about you – why don’t you have a special somepony?”

Hype reckoned that she should have seen that coming. “Let’s just say that being the mutant changeling daughter of an Equestrian Princess makes for added complications. Nothing has worked out so far. Nevertheless I live in hope of meeting someone who can deal with my… eccentricities, shall we say?”

Watchful looked curious and grinned. “What eccentricities are we talking about?”

“Well, for starters, are you aware of how organised Twilight Sparkle is?”

“Yes, I am. I was once caught up in one of her re-shelving events.”

Hype chuckled in sympathy. “Okay. Let me just say that I sometimes make Dad look like a slob. I’m severely O.C.D. about some things. Please don’t come into my room and touch things because I’ll probably freak out.”

“Oh? Now I’m really curious.”

“I’m going to regret telling you that, aren’t I?” Hype said with a sigh. “It seems I can dish out the advice, but suck at taking it. Plenty of potential colt-friends have told me so.”

“If you want to talk about it, I think it’s my turn to listen.”

Hype turned her gaze to the lovely moonlit night and said, “Y’know, for the first time, I think I’m ready to talk about it.”

The two spent a couple of hours in girl-talk before they finally called it a night and headed to their respective rooms. Both settled into sound sleep soon after hitting the sheets.

 

 

# # #

Breakfast was uncomfortably awkward. Even though Twilight had apparently come to terms with the situation, she was still feeling the incipient loss. The team did not dawdle over the meal for this reason. Hype had taken the opportunity to pack some personal items this time, although she had to struggle with herself not to take everything. Although logically she knew that virtually anything could be replaced in the alternate timeline, that did not stop her O.C.D. from making the choices nearly impossible. It was only Lucida’s threat to leave her behind that managed to break the impasse.

Hype gave her parents a long hug goodbye. Twilight cried again, but did not try to interfere with either the team or her daughter’s decision. In fact, as Hype had predicted, the alicorn was comforted that their firstborn child would have a real future. Hype stepped back to join the group and nodded at Lucida, indicating that she was ready.

“Farewell, Mama Twilight,” Lucida said. “Let’s go, Des.”

Once again, they dropped into the temporal void, leaving behind this alternate History.

# # #

After leaving Blue and Forest in concealment, the rest headed into the city. As planned, they arrived at a moment that was a little before the honor duel at the arena. They were not there to watch the fight this time though. Instead, they were going to keep track of Ravenwing from the moment that he was taken from the arena by the medics after his defeat. They had no idea when Chrysalis’ agent would replace the griffon, but it was extremely unlikely that it would be before Ravenwing had been treated for his injuries. However, as they did not know his movements between the duel and the following morning at King Argent’s court, they had to keep track of him for every moment between. As this was an intelligence-gathering mission, Watchful was given the task of tracking him.

Although Ravenwing’s injuries were severe, they did not require a stay at the hospital. He left with his ruined right wing strapped to his body, and the broken left wing in a sling. Medication for the pain left him able to cope by himself, but a friend nevertheless arranged for a pony-drawn cart to pick him up and take him to his former home.

When Watchful reported this via comm, Hype was puzzled by an apparent inconsistency. “I thought that you said that Ravenwing had forfeited everything he owns. How is that he is still going back to his castle?”

Lucida explained, “While it’s true that the castle does not belong to him anymore, this will probably be a good demonstration of the difference between the absolute application of the law, and the practical application. While everything now belongs to Path now, even he cannot claim things of a deeply personal nature. For example, if Ravenwing’s mother’s cremated remains are in an urn, he is allowed to take them with him. He is even allowed to beg to keep other items that are precious to him, although Path would be under no obligation whatsoever to grant those wishes. However, the biggest exception would of course be any living relatives that reside in his former home. If he had a son or daughter, he would be allowed the time to move them out, along with anything of personal nature to the child. Same rule for a parent living with him. That’s why the official final turnover of the possessions isn’t until the next day.”

“Did Ravenwing have any children?”

“Not that I am aware of. He was seeking betrothal with Mom at the time, and would have had chicks with her if he’d had his way.”

Hype nodded thoughtfully. “I see. That makes sense. It’s also a good time to replace him in the confusion of the situation.”

“Exactly,” Lucida agreed firmly. “The dispossessed griffon would no longer have anyone to order around, nor care what happens to him. I can assure you that the staff have already been informed of the result of the duel, and will give no cooperation unless out of the goodness of their hearts, and considering how Ravenwing treated most of them, I doubt very much that is going to happen. Anyway, I am predicting that he will be taken by the agent after he leaves the castle for the last time. He needs to find a place to stay for the night, and that means going back to the city, or more likely a room at his friend’s place. I’m hoping that’s the case because it will make our task a lot simpler. If we have to deal with a last-moment swap at the King’s court, we will have soldiers and staff making the situation very complicated, with a higher potential for things to go wrong. However, although we have dealt with complex arrangements before, I think we should be able to pull this off with a minimum of difficulty.”

While they watched the castle, a messenger from the King’s court arrived and spoke briefly with Ravenwing. As Lucida predicted, Ravenwing did leave his former home shortly after with his friend, Razorbeak, and they went to that griff’s house. Watchful’s final report for the evening was that Ravenwing had settled down for the night in a guest bedroom, and the changeling had found a good observation post. Hype volunteered to relieve Watchful because she wanted to make herself useful to the team, and because, like the Red Changeling, she would not betray her presence to the agent with leaking emotions like any of the others could.

To Hype’s complete surprise, Destined joined her in the middle of her watch.

“How did you sneak up on me?!” she whispered loudly after recovering from the shock of the alicorn literally walking up next to her.

“Perception filter spell,” Destined replied. “If I’m going to keep watch for a changeling agent, I need to be imperceptible to his senses, but of course that means I was to yours also until I made myself known to you.”

“Oh! Don’t scare the horse-apples out of me next time, okay? What are you doing here in the middle of the night anyway?”

“I’ve spent a lot of time doing lessons with Luna, and I’m used to being up at night. Besides, I thought you might like the company.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Because of how you chatted with Watchful for so long last night,” he answered with a grin.

Hype was startled. “How do you know that?”

“I just told you – I’m used to being up at night, especially since my fiance is a thestral.”

“Oh… right.”

“So…?”

“So what?”

“So what would you like to talk about?”

“Shouldn’t we be keeping quiet?”

“Sound-deadening is part of the perception-filter spell. As long as you don’t raise your voice too much, you won’t be heard.”

“Oh. You’d think that with a father like Twilight Sparkle, I’d know those things.”

Destined looked at her curiously. “How could you not know more than the average pony? From my own experience with Mom, she was never shy about giving me magic lessons.”

“Maybe because you’re an alicorn and I’m a changeling?”

“My father is an earth pony with a mage-level unicorn as his mother. He learned to adapt earth pony magic to specialized spells with her help. I certainly can’t see why you couldn’t learn something similar. Heck! My sister, Pif learned how to teleport, the first changeling to ever do so, and something not even Papa Free can do.”

“It seems like your family got a lot better breaks than mine. I can’t get over how casually you treat changelings, other than these agents of course.”

“What do you mean? I’ve seen plenty of changelings around Ponyville in your timeline, especially the Royal Guards.”

“Your History didn’t have Queen Chrysalis invade and take over the Crystal Kingdom, and then constantly try to do the same to Equestria. We suspect that she’s doing the same to other nations, and might even be manipulating the Griffonians already, which might be why Mom has had zero luck making any progress towards a treaty between us. The rest of the hives might be our allies, but ponies can’t forget that there’s an entire swarm ready to take them over if we let our guard down for a moment, therefore suspicion about our kind is rife. There’s a lot of hostility towards them… towards me.”

“Ah, I see. You’re right. I’ve grown up with a whole generation that has never known what it’s like not to have undisguised changelings among the community. However, I’m not entirely ignorant of it either. Frothy Brew, a friend of the family, owns a coffee shop in Canterlot, and his daughter married a Red Changeling. She fell in love with him at a time when changelings had barely started appearing regularly in public. Red Archer has told us stories of what that was like, and finding acceptance.”

Hype nodded. “Right. Now imagine that attitude persisted for us right up to the present, and there I am, the half-breed daughter of Princess Twilight Sparkle and a mutant changeling Queen. I’m all sorts of wrong in the eyes of ponies.”

“Well, for starters, technically all changelings are half-breeds because the Queens all seek mates outside of their own kind, usually a pony, but a griffon in Papa Free’s case. Anyway, that should make the half-breed tag rather irrelevant, except of course we’re dealing with pony biases. Did we tell you that my family got its start due to an investigation started by Dad into various cultures so that we could better understand them, and reduce or eliminate our cultural biases? Believe me, they can be changed. However, I can see the pressures that were put on you, especially since you didn’t have the large family support base that we did. Still, I can’t imagine Mom… or Dad in your case… not doing her best to educate you. It’s kind of her obsession.”

“Maybe she got distracted when Wandering was born,” Hype muttered.

“Oh. And he’s not only an alicorn, but hardly has a visible trace of his changeling heritage. And considering your age difference, Mom had to spend a lot more time with him at a critical time of your development. So, let me guess – you were jealous of your brother, and you rebelled against your father?”

Hype’s ears folded down and she turned her head away in shame from Destined. She nodded without replying.

Destined sighed. “It seems that you’re on much better terms with Twilight now though, but the damage was done. You became more introverted, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and somewhat obsessive about some things. Mom tried to help, but he grew up as a griffon and never had to deal with the same problems as a child. Then along comes your group, and one of them is a Red Changeling who is agonizing about choosing a relationship over her duty. She’s totally oblivious to the fact that in my worldview, changeling relationships with ponies are virtually impossible in public. I don’t know of any that aren’t concealed behind a pony guise. I’d kill to have Watchful’s problems!”

Hype’s voice had been steadily rising, and Destined had to shush her before replying. “Well, seeing as you’re coming back with us, you will get that opportunity, but I suspect that you’re going to have to learn how to interact better with others.” He paused to chuckle. “Listen to me – I’m giving advice like an expert. You wouldn’t think that I didn’t have to have some sense pounded into me too. In fact, I don’t believe that single one of us hasn’t had their relationship problems. Pif was not interested in anything until Citrine made her realize that she was missing something. Blue was swept off his hooves by a possessive dragoness. Lucida has never had anything like a serious coltfriend. My brother, Flix, seems to have the most normal development of a relationship out of all of us! So keep your hopes up, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. After all, you’re going to be part of the family now, and technically as much my sister as Pif is.”

Hype blushed. “Thanks, Destined. If you weren’t my brother, I’d try my luck with you and kiss you.”

“Heh! I might be gay, but I’ve enjoyed many a kiss from mares before I realized my leanings.”

Hype smiled mischievously and her magic flared. Moments later, a pony stallion with Hype’s coloration leaned over to kiss Destined on the cheek. “Thanks, Destined,” the changeling said in a sexy masculine voice.

The alicorn blushed in surprise. “Call me Des, and I’m taken!”

Hype chuckled and resumed her normal form. “It was worth it to see the look on your face.”

Destined smirked. “Now you’re being like a real sister. I think you’re going to be okay, Hype.”

Hype nodded. “I certainly hope that you’re right, Des.”

# # #

The night passed without incident, as expected, but as the dawn lit up the horizon, the two watchers stopped chatting and focused more of their attention on Ravenwing’s bedroom. Although they had positioned themselves to be able to see if the door to the room opened in case the agent was imitating someone inside, they thought it was unlikely. Because the window was open, it seemed far likelier that the agent would choose the simpler approach. They were not disappointed. A very ordinary-looking griffon flew in low in the early morning gloom and alighted by the window which was not readily visible from the street. He peered cautiously inside before easing the window open enough for him to slip inside without disturbing the sleeper. Then the intruder moved out of direct sight of the window, apparently not taking any further risk of being spotted. There were flares of green light though, and shortly a doppelganger of Ravenwing headed to the door, while the original remained asleep in the bed.

“Watch the front door in case the agent leaves,” Destined instructed. “I think he’ll play it like normal though, and have breakfast with Ravenwing’s friend first, but it pays to cover all bases. I’m going down to check on the real Ravenwing.”

Hype shifted to a spot where she could observe the front entrance while Destined flew down to check on the griffon. He quickly returned and settled down next to Hypotenuse.

“Well…?” she asked when he didn’t say anything.

“Well what?”

“Is Ravenwing okay?”

Destined shrugged. “I suppose so.”

“What do you mean by that? You said you were going to check on him.”

“I did?” Destined frowned in concentration, and then his eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I did! Ha! That’s clever,” he said ruefully.

“What’s clever?” Hype asked curiously.

“There’s an aversion spell on the room. Get close enough and you trigger it. Nobody is going to disturb Ravenwing while the agent is impersonating him. It’ll probably fade just in time for Argent’s soldiers to come looking for him.”

“Won’t Ravenwing wake before that and spoil that plan?”

“I’m guessing a sleep spell will stop that from happening. I could check it out, but I’d have to break the aversion spell to do it, so I won’t. It’s more important that we ensure that we know how this plays out. You’ve already seen what happens when we make assumptions.”

Hype nodded, and they settled in to wait patiently.

Eventually ‘Ravenwing’ left the house in the company of his friend, and they headed off in the direction of the king’s castle. Hype took off immediately to follow as closely as she dared, while Destined called on his comm to alert the others before following from a distance.

Watchful was in place at the castle to observe Ravenwing’s approach. Judging by his direction, she guessed how he would enter, and headed in before him, taking the form of one of the castle guards. She followed discreetly when the griffon-changeling entered and headed for the throne room. The agent obviously had done his research as he confidently made his way to his destination. Soon he met up with the king, and Argent gave him a curt nod.

“Good, you’re here. You will conduct yourself honorably as you formally forfeit your possessions.” The king signaled one of his assistants, and they headed to the throne room.

Meanwhile Destined and Hype entered the castle via the public entrance, comfortably anonymous among the crowd who had come to witness the historic occasion. While they had to be content with the view from the public gallery, they could still see everything they needed to from there. They saw that Path, Roseclaw, Free, and Twilight were already in place, awaiting the arrival of the king. Argent soon arrived with Ravenwing following close behind, standing to the king’s left as he settled on his throne.

The group bowed, including Path in his wheelchair.

“Long Path, step… er… roll forward,” Glimfeather commanded.

Path did so, but just as he stopped at the foot of the dais, the disguised changeling reached under the sling of his left wing and withdrew a crossbow. Before anyone could react, he fired, and the bolt went straight through Path’s chest, shattering his spine.

The crowd screeched in shock at the assassination, and Ravenwing took advantage of the surprise to dash for the door by which he had entered. As Roseclaw leaped to her betrothed side, the guards finally reacted and took off in pursuit of the assassin. Destined could watch no more as blood stained his father’s hide and his herd mother’s feathers. Hype was sickened, not only by the sight, but also by the strong negative emotions from the disguised alicorn. She led him away and they made an exit from the castle.

Watchful had been waiting in concealment in the empty corridor from the throne room. When the fake Ravenwing burst through the door and rushed down the corridor, she followed as he ducked into a side room. Moments later, the guards arrived, and some started checking all the rooms along the way. An unknown griffon exited the room that the agent had entered, and was ignored by the guards. Watchful did not bother following him though. The scenario had played out virtually exactly as expected, and there was no point in trying to catch the agent now. That was a task for later. She headed for the rendezvous point, and was shortly joined by Destined and Hype.

After Destined was sufficiently recovered from witnessing his father’s murder, they made a time-jump back just a few hours. The agent had made it very easy for them, and they were in place for when he arrived to take Ravenwing’s place. Instead of entering the window though, he found himself ensnared in a magical trap laid by Destined, and was knocked unconscious. He was carried away, leaving the real Ravenwing to take the correct path in History.

When the agent regained consciousness, he found himself surrounded by the time-team who had gathered in a disused warehouse that Glenn had scouted out earlier. He hissed in displeasure.

Lucida stepped forward and said, “You’ve lost, puppet of Chrysalis. What have you got to say to that?”

The agent snarled, but then laughed derisively. “My Queen knows that you have been defying her will. She says to tell you that House Path will fall, but you will fall first.”

The agent triggered a spell, and suddenly all the energy that changeling had stored was released all at once, radiating out with enough destructive power to instantly kill everyone nearby. Eventually the smoke cleared away, and the ashes of the incinerated changeling floated to rest on the bottom of the invisible bubble that had surrounded the agent.

Destined looked at Lucida and said, “You were right – he was a trap.”

Lucida nodded. “Double-jeopardy. Either he killed Dad or he killed us – a win for Chrysalis whichever happened. If this hadn’t been so easy, I might not have been so suspicious, but I’m learning not to underestimate her now.”

“We might not have learned anything from the agent, but at least that solves the question of what to do with him.”

“That’s true. Anyway, let’s go home and see if we’ve fixed things properly this time. Are you ready, Blue?”

“While you’ve been yakking, I’ve been charging. The energy from that little hop back in time has already been replaced.”

“Great!” Destined said. “Second time’s the charm!”

The alicorn teleported them to Ponyville before they made the time-jump to what they hoped was the correct present. They heaved a sigh of relief upon spotting the Chrome Hive in its familiar place.

Hype gaped. “Whoa! That’s impressive!”

“We’ll give you a tour of your mother’s hive later,” Lucida said. “Right now, it’s time to meet your family – both new and familiar.

Hype’s head kept swiveling as she noted all the differences between the Ponyville that she had grown up in and this one. The noticeable absence of Royal Guards everywhere was pleasant, but the various undisguised changelings that she occasionally saw going about their normal lives was startling. She passed close enough to a mare though to spot that she was a disguised changeling, so she knew that some still preferred the old ways. The cream-coated mare with a dark blue and pink mane stared at Hype for a long while before shrugging and entering the candy store.

They arrived at Twilight’s castle just before dinnertime, which was when they would have been going off on a victory dinner before they had been abducted by Derpy to go on another time adventure. They headed for the family room, hoping that everyone had returned from Canterlot after the big cake battle. Luckily all four of their parents were there, which meant that Luna would probably be joining them for dinner soon too. They greeted the time-team normally, unaware that they had been gone for a few days by their reckoning. They said nothing though, allowing Hype to take in her impressions first.

Hype took in the pleasant but unfamiliar domestic scene with Path and Roseclaw cozying-up together on the sofa, while Free was discussing the cake battle with them. Twilight was reading a book as usual. Free was the person who riveted Hype’s attention though. The griffon-changeling was larger and stronger-looking than the mother who she was familiar with, and his attitude was shockingly different. This was a bolder and brasher person than she had ever known. Eventually Free noticed her stares and grinned at her.

“Something bothering you, Pif?”

Hype stepped up and smiled softly. “Hello, Mom.”

“Mom? Since when have you started calling me that?”

“I’m not who you think I am, Mom.”

Free frowned in puzzlement and leaned forward, peering at her intently. Then his eyes widened in surprise. “You’re not Pif! But you are a Chrome Changeling princess. Who are you?”

Lucida spoke up then. “Dads, Moms, may I introduce Hypotenuse, daughter of Free Agent and Twilight Sparkle.”

“WHAT?!” squawked Free and Twilight simultaneously.

“We have just returned from fixing another time-change,” Lucida continued. “In that History, Dad was murdered in two different ways, both resulting in Mama Twilight and Papa Free returning from Griffonia by themselves, and eventually getting married. When Papa Free went into breeding mode though, Dad was not there to be the sire, so Mama Twilight used a gender-swap spell to breed her. Hype was born from that union.”

Hype smiled shyly. “So, that’s why you’re Mom,” she explained, and then faced Twilight. “And that’s why you’re Dad.”

Free and Twilight stared at her in wonder for a long moment before they looked at each other. A nod of agreement passed between them and they both got up and hugged the changeling. “Welcome home, Daughter” Twilight said.

Hype was startled to taste a flood of affection for her, and she drank it in thirstily, even as she wondered at the unreserved nature of the emotion. These two Alternate History people had accepted her without hesitation, and she started to cry as she hugged them back. No matter what else the future brought her, she had her parents to share it with.

# # #

The time-team gave a detailed account of their adventures while having dinner. The agent’s threat from Chrysalis did little to dampen the elation that was felt at foiling Chrysalis once more.

“I’ll be glad when we finally take the fight to Chrysalis,” Path said. “She’s declared war on us personally now, and I can’t wait to show her how wrong she was to do that.”

Just then, Pif and Citrine arrived. They gave a cheery greeting to the others, and would have moved on to whatever they had planned to do next except that Pif spotted Hype staring at her. Pif had been taking to using her natural form around home more often since getting into the relationship with Citrine, and it was obvious that the two changeling princesses were almost mirror images of each other except for their mane and tail color.

Pif walked over to Hype and looked her up and down before grinning and saying, “Hi, time-twin!”

 

 

Hype gave her a crooked smile back and said, “More like half-sister, actually.”

“This I gotta hear! Mind if we hang out here for a bit, Citrine?”

The crystal pony was grinning madly. “I get two Pifs! What’s to mind?!”

The family laughed as Citrine put her forelegs around the waists of both Chrome Changelings and hugged them together. Hype almost started crying again – she was truly home now.

Author's Note:

So, how many readers guessed that the previous attempt to kill Path was a little too easy to fix? The chapter title's double meaning might have been a clue. 

Due to a generous donation by a reader, I was able to afford extra art this chapter. If you would like to see more illustrations, remember that you can donate to me via Paypal.

All art in this chapter is by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf

   
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