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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27. Chapter 16 - Team Growth Part 2

Path shook his head sadly. “When did your royal privilege take precedent over our family, Twilight? Your overprotectiveness is tearing us apart, setting one against another.” He turned to see Roseclaw glaring at him. “My own wife is furious with me because she is as bad as you when it comes to our eldest son, but you both should be supporting him, not mothering him now. Luna has defied her sister’s ruling to aid Blue, and you don’t know how much that tore her up too. And you forced Celestia’s hoof also. She knows how prophecies work, and she knows that Blue can’t afford to ignore his visions, but you placed her in a position where she had to choose between an unsubstantiated need and a possible threat, and in absolute impartiality she had to choose in your favor. I can guarantee you that she was not happy to do so.”

“But she did, and you must still abide by that decision,” Twilight replied defiantly.

Path sighed. “No, I don’t. You have forgotten that there was one more vote to count.”

“What are you talking about?” Twilight said suspiciously.

“Destined is a Prince of Equestria, remember? Once he found out that Blue intended to go despite Celestia’s ruling, he came to me and told me that he was formally casting his vote in favor of Blue. The vote is tied, therefore the decision reverts back to me. By my authority as the head of House Path, Blue Streak is directed to train himself to meet the challenge that faces us.”

Twilight looked at Path aghast. “No! You can’t do this!”

“Princess Twilight Sparkle, I have spoken! Let me know when my herd-mate is back, Your Highness.” Path then turned away from the alicorn and started to leave the room. He paused next to Free and asked, “Are you coming or staying?”

Free looked over to where Twilight was standing rigid with shock. He shook his head. “It’s going to be real rough for a while, but she needs me now.”

Path nodded understandingly. “Good luck. You’re going to need it.”

Free gave him a half-hearted smirk. “I think you’re going to need it more than me.”

As Path sadly left the room, he knew that Free was probably right. His bed was likely to be very lonely tonight.

# # #

It was too late in the evening to accomplish anything, so the team concentrated on working with their dragon hosts to stow their equipment and find a place to bed down for the night. The tasks were facilitated with a translation spell that Destined had prepared for the trip. While the Matriarch and the Seer were fluent in the pony language, few other dragons knew Equish. Blue’s first trip to the Dragon Lands had provided the alicorn with a lot of useful experience to draw upon and prepare them for their stay.

Two dragons in particular were assigned to help them out – the Seer’s apprentice and Egg Warden, both of whom had spent time at House Path and were familiar with many of the team members. Watchful was surprised to realize that Egg Warden was in fact a changeling of a type with which he was not familiar, but when she tried to warn Lucida, he was surprised again.

“We already know Egg Warden is a changeling. Don’t mention it to anyone else though because with the possible exception of the Seer or the Matriarch, none of the dragons are aware of this fact. He lives among them just like Papa Free lives as a griffon.”

Of course Egg Warden had to be introduced properly to Watchful because he had recognized that the griffoness was a changeling also. Once the two understood where the other stood, they had no problem with each other.

“Just call me Warden for short. I haven’t got any eggs or hatchlings to mind at this time, so I’m available whenever you need me.”

Lucida said, “Thanks, Warden. You might have noticed young Forest and Glenn in our group; both of them are fairly new students at House Path. I plan to give them lessons during our stay here. Can I count on you to help pass on your own experience at the House?”

Warden grinned. “Being a teacher is all part of my job. Sure – I can do that for you.”

The team had an early night, intending to get off to an equally early start the next morning. Their temporary accommodation was crowded, and with zero opportunity for any intimacy, but it had been a tiring day and everyone was soon asleep. Not everyone was completely off-duty though.

While Destined’s body rested, his mind glided through the dreamscape as he had done many times with Luna. He did not know if it was necessary, but if word was to come from Equestria with regards to their clandestine trip while they were sleeping, this was the most likely avenue it would come by. He was therefore unsurprised when Luna eventually turned up, looking rather unhappy.

“Bad news, I take it?” Destined asked.

“Aye. Thy mother saw through Free Agent and Hypotenuse’s ruse, and she is sore wroth with them and me. However, 'tis thy father who suffers most the sting of her ire.”

Destined nodded sadly. “I knew that would happen once I caused a tie. That’s why I didn’t want to do it originally until Blue declared that he was going to ignore the ruling. This way he has a legitimate excuse to be here with Dad’s blessing. Dad really put himself on the line to oppose Mom, but that’s his right and his duty. I just hope nothing goes wrong here or Mom will kill him.”

“That is the risk that must be taken, and he chose to do his duty even knowing the consequences. He sleeps alone tonight, but I will endeavor to wind-up my duties promptly tonight so that my herd stallion does not wake up alone.”

“Thanks, Mama Luna,” Destined said as he nuzzled her.

Luna smiled fondly as she nuzzled him back. Since Flix had first called her Mama, his siblings had taken up the appellation, and the Alicorn of the Night could not have been prouder of the title.

“So – should we expect Mom to try to track us down and bring us back?” Destined asked with a little trepidation.

“Nay. Lord Path has made his will firmly known. Despite her anger, I do not believe that she will defy it. Nevertheless I advise thee to call home regularly so that her worries are eased.”

“The first call is going to be a lot of fun,” Destined said in a tone that indicated how much he dreaded making it.

“My advice to thee is to stand thy ground. Thou art an adult now, and a Prince of Equestria. For better or for worse, from this time forth, your decisions will affect our country, and even the world. Be prepared to admit thy mistakes, but be resolute when thou dost make a decision. Sometimes thou will be wrong, but at least be wrong with the conviction of the rightness of thy cause.”

“I’ll try to remember that when I go face the consequences.”

“Pfft! Thou hast not had to deal with Celestia’s pouty-face whenever she is defied.”

Destined stared at Luna for a moment before his face lit up with a grin and he chuckled. “Think you’ll survive it?”

“It will be a struggle, but I have had centuries of practice,” Luna replied with a straight face that lasted mere seconds before it cracked and was replaced with a grin matching Destined’s. “I must go now. Do not hesitate to call upon me if the need arises. Queen Nocturne can get much done in the Dragon Lands.”

“I’ll remember that,” Destined said as he gave Luna one last hug before stepping back from her.

“Farewell, Destined Path – my son.” Luna simply faded away from the dreamscape after that.

Destined soon did likewise.

# # #

Path’s sleep was disturbed by someone lifting the blankets and climbing in beside him. He cracked open one eye to see a glistening ethereal mane framing a face almost invisible in the darkened room. It leaned over to plant a soft kiss upon his cheek.

“Rest well, my stallion. I will be here to share your burden on the morrow.”

Path murmured his thanks and drifted back to sleep.

Luna snuggled her gravid form up to him, content to be with her beloved. She would make sure that his dreams would be pleasant and his sleep undisturbed. He would need his full strength for the day to come.

# # #

To their surprise, breakfast had been prepared for all the team members, even the ones that did not eat meat. A quizzical look from Blue to the Matriarch was enough to prompt an explanation from her.

“You will be travelling with the Seer to meet with the seers of the Southern, Northern, and Eastern Clans. It will require a fair journey, and it would be best for you to start as soon as possible. Break your fast and say farewell to your companions as soon as possible.”

“Can any of them come with me?” Blue asked hopefully.

“No. This is a quest that you must undertake on your own for now. The Seer will explain more later.”

Blue nodded, accepting that for now, and he followed the Matriarch’s advice and ate a hearty breakfast. He briefly discussed what the rest would be doing in his absence before going back to the yurt where his equipment was kept. He strapped on his magitek wings and a small saddle pack, and then came back out to say farewell to Cinder, and give his children a fond nuzzle. The Seer and her apprentice were waiting for him rather impatiently by that time.

“Time is wasting! You’ll see them again tonight when we return… if we even get there at this rate.”

Blue grinned at the Seer’s impatience, but activated his wings anyway. The Seer and her apprentice took off, and he leaped into the air to follow, waving back to his friends and family. “I’ll be back this evening!” The magitek wings hummed as he followed the Seer of the West.

“So – why are we having to fly so far away?” he asked as he pulled alongside the dragon mystic.

“There are two reasons, the first reason of which is that we are going to be pushing a lot of energy into your system. We believe that by pushing you past your current capacity, your body will adapt to handle more power. We are hoping that if we can keep infusing you with it in stages, your capacity will grow enough to be able to handle Bii Bolgokh without being destroyed in the process. That much concentrated power is potentially dangerous to others, so we will be doing it well out of harm’s way.”

Blue looked a little puzzled. “Bii Bolgokh?”

The Seer smiled. “The one you first saw in my yurt when you were just a boy – the one who visited your dreams recently. Your Equestrian concept of Harmony is one that spans the universe, just with different names. Destruction’s champion, the Nightmare, goes by many names, but its driving force is always the same. She has taken Chrysalis as her agent in her latest move to destroy everything. Luckily for you, Bii Bolgokh, the Nightmare’s antithesis, has decided to take you as its champion. He is the Herald to the Creator of All Things. It is why we must all prepare.”

After a long flight, the trio landed at the base of a mountain near what looked like the entrance to a cave.

“Leave your wings and the rest of your equipment here,” the Seer instructed. “You will not need them for what we must do.”

After Blue had divested himself of everything, the Seer led him into what looked like a giant crystal cavern. It was already occupied by three large dragons who had apparently been waiting for them, along with their apprentices who were inscribing runes on the floor of the cave, moving gradually to a central point.

The Seer stopped and bowed to her peers, and they bowed back. She then said to Blue, “The silver one is the Seer of the North, the one with the obsidian scales is the Seer of the Southern Black Dragons, and the Emerald Dragon is the Seer of the Eastern Dragons.” She then faced the others once more. “My colleagues, this is Blue Streak, son of Path, chosen by Bii Bolgokh.”

The seers all roared their welcome, but it was the Southern Seer that talked first. “Blue Streak, the Bii Bolgokh has chosen you to be its champion, but you are still too weak to be his vassal. We hope to solve that. Please sit down in the center of the chamber.”

Carefully avoiding the inscriptions, Blue walked over to the center of the crystal cave and the apprentices started to write runes on his fur, painting him with black ink as he held still.

“So… what kind of side-effects is this going to cause?” Blue asked as he was being prepared.

The Eastern Dragon Seer snapped at him. “It does not matter what the side-effects are – you are going to have the supreme honor of being the vessel and agent of Bii Bolgokh! All that matters is defeating what you call the Nightmare!”

Blue looked back at the Western Seer, and she chuckled. “Right now we will just be expanding your capacity. It should not be any worse than when we had to heal you after the smilodon attack, most likely less so since you have far more self-control now.”

Blue nodded in understanding as the apprentices finished their task, and then moved him until the runes on his hooves aligned with those on the floor.

“Be strong, our young Mana Synthesist,” Blue’s Seer told him as she took her place at the western point of the cave. “Your training begins now!”

The voices of all four Seers rose to harmonies in a chant that reverberated throughout the crystal structure, and the runes on the floor and on Blue’s hide lit up. The raw mana of the Dragon Lands was drawn in and focused on the earth pony, flooding into his open receptors. Blue was used to feeling the power flowing into him as he recharged, but that had been like standing in a placid creek as opposed to the raging torrent that this was. He threw back his head and screamed.

# # #

As soon as Blue had left, Lucida started organizing the rest of their group. She assigned Cinder to head up a team to build some more yurts for both comfort and privacy. It had been a while since the dragoness had needed to do so, but she had not forgotten the techniques. Materials were scavenged or acquired from the other dragons, and she instructed Pif, Citrine, Destined, and Silk in the art of constructing them. While they were doing that, Lucida took aside Glenn and Forest to continue their lessons. Watchful took up a position where she could oversee both groups, but her attention was mostly on Lucida’s class. She found herself interested in the subject, and to her surprise, so were some of the younger dragons.

It amused Watchful to see the dragon youths surreptitiously take up positions around the class to eavesdrop on the hippogriff. She wondered at their motives though. Were they really that interested in the lesson, or had they other reasons? She had not missed the covetous looks that the males had given Cinder, although she was most certainly out of their reach. Could some of them be interested in Lucida now? And if so, did they find her attractive, or were they merely interested in the power she represented? Maybe both? It was hard to tell with dragons; their covetous nature tended to make them look upon every relationship with a view to how it could benefit them. However, they were also very passionate about their loves, so it balanced out.

After a lunch break, Destined had a stint at being the teacher, while Lucida put her talons to use with the yurt construction. A few of the watching youths did not return, but Watchful was surprised by how many remained. Apparently they were interested in the lessons after all? She wondered if it was the novelty or a deeper desire to learn that had brought them back. Later when Warden assisted in a lesson in self-defense, a couple of the youths stepped in as sparring partners.

It was impossible to miss the Matriarch as she approached the class, but because she was not expecting to be addressed, Watchful was startled when the huge dragon spoke to her.

“Will you not be participating as do all the others?”

Watchful’s wings had flung out and her heart hammered for a moment before she calmed down and settled her wings back into place. “I am a guardian. It’s my duty to watch for trouble. While it seems safe enough, this team has been the focus of much trouble lately, so I stay aside and guard.”

The Matriarch was amused by Watchful’s initial reaction, but intrigued by her words. “You are deep in the Dragon Lands, and surrounded by a whole clan of dragons – what peril do you expect to guard against here?”

“One that threatens the whole world. With all due respect to you, Matriarch, I cannot leave their safety to your clan. If one guardian can make a difference, then it remains my duty to watch. I will not let my friends down.”

“Your loyalty speaks well of you, young one. Your place in their team seems well-earned. But does nothing but duty drive you? While we dragons appreciate that, we also pursue our passions. Does nothing set your heart afire?”

Watchful’s gaze turned momentarily towards Glenn before she replied softly, “Maybe.”

The Matriarch followed Watchful’s glance and she smiled. “Good. Speaking as dragon, I would not hesitate to follow my heart. I do not think that it would be so much different for a griffon.”

But is the same true for a changeling?’ Watchful thought as the Matriarch excused herself and continued on to wherever she had been going.

Later, just before sunset, the group was resting at the camp center. They had just started the evening fire for cooking purposes. Cinder was watching her two hatchlings play with the few others that hatched that season when the Seer arrived by herself, looking somewhat puzzled.

“Huh! I thought Blue would be back by now.” She looked around at the curious team-members and explained, “He said that he was going to meet me back here. He just had to take care of some–”

She was cut off as a rumbling in the ground suddenly swelled, and Blue Streak thundered into the campsite with something on his back which was several times larger than himself. He skidded to a halt just short of the campfire.

The male cooks looked up at the pony and blinked in surprise and awe, somewhat wary of him before his hoof reached up and slammed the beast down onto the ground. The Huntmaster’s eyes went wide.

“A-an Alpha Smilodon?!” He gawked at it before he looked at Blue Streak.

“The Clan will eat well tonight. Save the heart and a haunch for my hatchlings,” Blue declared with more of a rumble in his voice than usual. He started to walk toward his friends and they were all a little on edge at this display. “Destined, please watch my hatchlings for a while.”

Cinder blinked. “Why does he need to watch-yeep!” Cinder blinked in surprise as Blue’s hoof grabbed her tail and started dragging her away from the group and into one of the newly built yurts.

“Is… is Cinder going to be okay?” Glenn asked.

Destined patted the griffon on the shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Glenn – dragons like assertive mates. To her, that’s little more than foreplay.”

Glenn started to blush at the explanation, but Citrine snickered. “I need to use that move on Pif later.”

The Seer was smiling also. “Blue Streak felt the need to burn off the energy that he had accumulated during today’s training. It would seem that the hunt was insufficient.”

Silk chuckled. “Knowing them, the meal will be cooked before they’re done.”

Silk’s prediction turned out to be accurate. When they emerged from the yurt, the dragons were happily feasting on the smilodon meat, as were the meat-eaters in the team.

Blue sat down next to Destined and grinned as he saw his children munching on a haunch that was bigger than them. He reached over and slowly picked the haunch up, but the kids growled and wouldn’t let go, even though they were dangling in the air. Cinder chuckled as Blue lowered it back down and they went back to eating. The pair then joined in the feast.

Later when they were all replete, Blue indulged the curiosity of his companions. “I suppose you want to know what happened to me today?”

“That’s an understatement, blue guy,” Citrine replied. “Does it have anything to do with why your eyes are slit now?”

“Are they? I didn’t know that. Same thing happened the first time I was filled with draconic mana though, so I suppose it was to be expected.”

Silk said, “Your head seems a bit more angular too.”

“They said there might be side-effects,” Blue replied. “We met with the Seers of the Eastern, Northern, and Southern Clans, and the four of them put me through the wringer. By the end of the day, I was bursting with so much energy that I had to bleed some off. I poured a ton of it into my magitek wings and left the Seer far behind on our return trip, and used the time that I gained to do some hunting. I had a little grudge to work out of my system, hence my choice of prey. He didn’t stand a chance. I was amplified like crazy, and carrying the kill back to camp was a breeze.”

“And you still had energy to burn,” Pif said drolly.

Blue smirked even as Cinder grinned. “Yes, you could say that,” he replied.

‘So – how much more training like that is going to be necessary?” Lucida asked.

Blue’s expression became more serious. “The Seers said that we’ve barely begun.”

The team members looked around at each other with concern. After witnessing this evening’s display of power, to hear that it was nowhere near enough was somewhat disconcerting. Blue’s decision to come here and train was looking more and more vital to the success of the war.

# # #

The next day while Blue was away with the Seer, the yurt construction was completed. The simple but sturdy dwellings were easy to put up and take down, which was the whole point when you have a nomadic clan. No one in the team was sure how long they would be there while Blue trained, but at least they had their own places to call home for the time, and the dragons could put them to good use once Blue’s mission was completed.

Left with nothing else to do though, Citrine quickly grew bored. She moped around the campsite for a while before eventually running into a group of dragon youths. Of course youth was relative to dragons – any of them was at least twice as old, some three times, but by pony standards they might as well been Citrine’s peers. It turned out that although they had a more laidback attitude to the passing of time, even they grew bored occasionally.

“So, what do you do for entertainment?” Citrine asked.

“Tell stories,” one said.

“Recount great battles!” another added.

“Court females,” a slightly younger one declared.

There were derisive laughs and the bold upstart was pelted with whatever the other youths, male and female, could lay their talons on.

“Try again in a couple more decades, hatchling,” one of the dragonesses mocked.

Citrine grinned, recalling the advice that Blue had given all the team members not to discuss their age. By their standards, Cinder was practically a cradle-robber! However, the responses had given her an idea.

“Hey, guys, can you help me out? I’ve got an idea I want to try out for this evening, but I need some materials and some willing assistants.”

Several simply weren’t interested in helping the pony, but boredom and curiosity swayed a few. Citrine got her assistants, and went to work on her plans.

The evening of the next day after the meal was complete and the sun had set, the older dragons were mystified as a couple of dragon youths carried an odd structure into the central area of the camp, with Citrine following them while carrying a large box. The youths put the construct down between one of the team’s yurts and the central fire. It was a simple wooden framework about six feet high that had hides attached on two sides and the bottom half of the front, but was open to the back. A couple of blankets hung loosely from the top beam to cover the upper front half. Citrine walked behind the structure and put down the box out of sight before coming back around to face the curious crowd. She looked around and grinned broadly.

“Welcome to the first ever Pony Dinner Theatre! Gather around, young dragons, and the young at heart, while I tell the tale of the Siege of the Crystal City!”

That caught the attention of almost every dragon, including the elders. With the encouragement of Citrine and her helpers, the hatchlings were arrayed in front of what apparently was going to be Citrine’s stage. Several of the youths that Citrine had talked to earlier were curious about what she had built, and they settled down to watch also. Citrine ducked back behind her stage and there was a pause as she readied herself. Then at a word from her, the assistants pulled away the blankets to reveal two hooves covered with crude gloves. One was grey with a small strip of green on top and two black beads stuck near the top. The other was brown with a couple of flaps of material of the same color on the side, and a couple of red tufts on top, as well as two beads.

“Path! Path! I know what Queen Chrysalis plans!” came Citrine’s voice in crude imitation of Free’s as the brown covered hoof was wiggled to look like an excitable griffon.

“What is it?!” replied in a different voice that resembled that of Path as the other hoof reacted to the first.

Pif snorted in amusement as she realized what Citrine was up to. “She’s doing sock puppets!” she said with a chuckle.

“Invasion!” the Free puppet said extra excitedly, dashing back and forth across the stage.

The hatchlings laughed, but the older youths rolled their eyes.

“We have to stop her!” the Path puppet declared.

With just her two hooves and a myriad of sock puppets that must have taken a day to put together, Citrine re-told the saga of the Crystal City invasion from a simplistic and humorous point of view. The hatchlings were enthralled, but remarkably, so were the youths and not a few adults. They had never experienced this form of entertainment before, and the combination of novelty and story kept them engaged.

A deep blue puppet declared, “I am Luna, and I love the night! Watch me smite the changelings! YAAAYY!”

Her assistants each held branches with token changelings dangling from strings. The Luna puppet flailed wildly and the changelings dropped.

Destined laughed and said, “Mama Luna would love this.”

Later in the show, a light blue puppet raced around the stage. “Look how fast I am! Who am I?”

“BLUE STREAK!” yelled several of the audience who had really gotten into the fun and spirit of the play.

“Yes, I am Blue Streak, the fastest in the world. I’ll save you, Dad!”

The Blue puppet smashed into the black puppet with a stringy mane, and the audience gasped as the two crashed down.

The blue puppet was immediately replaced by a purple puppet with wings and horn.

“So fast!” gasped the Twilight puppet. “You saved him!”

When the play was finally over, the applause was enormous. The hatchlings were worn out from excitement, the youths started clamoring to help Citrine with another play, and the adults were smiling, pleased with the entertainment and the happiness of the clan.

“When did Citrine get so good at this?” Destined asked.

Pif was blissfully engorging herself on the positive emotions filling the air, but she replied anyway. “She took acting classes after I made her take some kind of non-physical elective.”

“I would never have expected our brawler to be so good at this. I know she loves to crack jokes and make people laugh, but she took it to a whole new level tonight. With just some crude sock puppets and a lot of imagination, she had practically the whole clan eating out of her hoof.”

Pif smiled proudly for her fiancée. “It’s not what you have but the way that you use it. Citrine has the both the imagination and the knack for story-telling to make it work.”

“I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next,” Lucida said.

Pif smirked. “I look forward to showing her what I plan to do with all this energy she’s fed me with.”

“I know that feeling,” Blue Streak said fervently with a matching grin.

# # #

Although the Western clan was fairly large, it was still a group of nomads that travelled light. That meant that their yurts were hardly fortresses, and they certainly had no walls to keep out dangers. The smilodons were hardly the only dangerous predators out there, and while the older dragons were immune to their attacks, the hatchlings and youths weren’t. Therefore there was always a watch kept at night by several of the dragons. One guard was startled though by a sound coming from the camp behind him late at night, but he lowered his weapon as soon as he recognized the bat-pony who settled down next to him.

“Can you not sleep?” Firestorm asked.

Silk smiled. “Thestrals tend to be nocturnal. Things have been a bit crazy for the past few days, but I’m settling back into a night routine again. It’s a bit quiet and dull at the moment though. Mind if I stay and keep you company?”

“As long as you help me keep watch, that is acceptable.”

“Heh! Thestral night vision is the best on Equus.”

“Oh? What’s making that scratching noise over there?” Firestorm pointed with a talon.

Silk’s ears swiveled toward the sound and he peered in that direction. “Two shrews mating.”

“Really? I can’t make out a thing. I was kind of hoping that it was a predator trying to sneak into the camp.”

“They’re obscured by the bush, but my hearing can differentiate the sounds that they make.”

Firestorm looked at him skeptically. “You’re not just making this up, are you?”

Silk shook his head. “Thestrals are night-hunters. I can’t say that I’ve done much, but my hearing and sight are still keen enough for that.”

“Night hunting? Tell me more about that.”

Silk happily regaled him with tales of his ancestors, not bothering to tell his rapt audience that he personally was a hunter of aches and pains, and not of prey. They chatted for a couple of hours before Silk returned to the yurt that he shared with Destined, ready to sleep at last.

# # #

The clan was in triage mode. The hunting party had been ambushed by a rock ogre as they had landed to capture their prey. Rock ogres were notoriously dangerous because they were nearly impossible to distinguish from the native stone. This one apparently had its eyes on the herd of goats when the dragons had pounced. Being pretty much as invulnerable as the rocks it resembled, it had no fear of dragons, and had immediately attacked. One hunter had been severely injured, and three others hurt trying to rescue her from the ogre’s grasp. The injured one was carried back to the camp by the Huntmaster, as was one of the other three who had a damaged wing.

The Seer was the clan’s healer too, but she and her apprentice were still away with Blue. The injured hunter was in great pain, but they had no one to aid her until Glenn stepped forward.

“I believe I can help her,” the griffon told the Huntmaster.

The big dragon looked at Glenn skeptically. “What do you know of healing dragons?”

“Specifically? Not much. However, I have studied the effects of many herbs and extracts from various sources. I carry around medicines that are suitable for both griffons and ponies, and I see little reason why they cannot be of use here.”

The Huntmaster was surprised. “Why does a griffon prince study healing?”

Glenn gazed back at the dragon levelly. “Why not? I care for the griffs whom I will someday rule. For now, I can use my knowledge of potions to defend and help those I ally myself with.”

The Huntmaster looked to the Matriarch who nodded and said, “Very well – do your best.”

Glenn went to the yurt where his possessions were stored, and came back with a satchel. It unfolded to reveal jars and tubes of various liquids and pastes, as well as some more conventional-looking pills. He started removing some of them from their padded restraints. “Considering the size of the patient, I could do with some bigger bandages. Can someone find something appropriate for me?”

The Matriarch sent off two dragons to search for suitable materials while Glenn got to work. First he held up a bottle which had a squeeze bulb attached to it. Showing it to the patient, he said, “This will clean your wounds to prevent infection. It will sting somewhat, so be prepared.”

The dragoness grunted and nodded in understanding.

Glenn held the bottle close to the biggest wound and started squeezing the bulb with his talons. A fine mist sprayed out and coated the raw wound. The dragoness gasped and her hide shuddered, but she restrained herself otherwise. The griffon worked his way through all her wounds before putting the bottle away.

“The worst part is done,” he said as he pulled out a large jar and a brush from the satchel. “I can now do something about the pain. While I did not want to risk an analgesic that hasn’t been tested on dragons, I do have an alternative. This will numb the area around the wounds so that I can close them up without causing more pain.”

Glenn started brushing on some of the white salve around the wounds, careful not to get any actually on the exposed flesh.

“This might take a little longer to work on you because of your tough hide, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

The dragoness’ face was already relaxing though. “It’s working. The pain is going away quickly. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Just a bit more and I’ll be done.” When he was finished, he closed up the jar and carefully set aside the brush. “Be careful not to touch that before I clean it,” he said to his companions who were watching with interest. “It might take a while to affect a dragon, but it will instantly numb any of you.”

Silk said, “Can I borrow it for a minute? I’ll set the broken wing of the other victim, but it will be easier for them if the pain is eased first.”

“Sure, but be sparing with its use. It’s very potent.”

Silk carefully picked up the brush and the jar and then went over to the dragon with the broken wing to treat it.

Meanwhile Glenn took out a large needle and a spool of sterile thread. “Time to stitch you up.” He soon realized that he had a big problem though. He sighed in frustration. “It’s no good – I can’t penetrate her tough hide.”

“I think I can help with that,” Destined said. “Hold up the needle, please.”

Glenn held it up, and Destined lowered his horn to touch it. They both glowed with magic for a few seconds and then stopped.

“Now try it,” Destined instructed.

When Glenn tried this time, it went through her hide like it was merely cloth. He started pulling the wound together with stitches, and asked as he worked, “What spell was that?”

“I adapted a battle spell to make weapons magically sharp enough to penetrate shields… and tough dragon hides,” he added with an apologetic smile to the Matriarch.

She merely gave the alicorn an amused smile back.

Glenn worked steadily until all the wounds were closed up. He then applied an antiseptic ointment to them all. By then, the two dragons that the Matriarch had sent in search of bandages had returned bearing the fruits of their efforts. The griffon was able to bind up all the wounds on the victim’s limbs, but her torso was too big to do the same. He noticed that she grunted and winced when he was binding the wound on her right foreleg.

“Hold out your leg, please.”

She did so, and he carefully exerted pressure. She grunted in pain again.

“Hmm… not broken, but definitely badly sprained, I’d say. You’ll have to stay off this leg for a while. Meanwhile though, a bit more of the numbing salve will help. Silk – are you done with that jar?”

Silk brought over the jar and brush, and Glenn painted the area around the injury. Once that was done, he turned to the Matriarch and said, “She’ll need food and drink now. The Seer might have some other suitable medicines that she can administer when she gets back, but the huntress will be fine.”

“Thank you for your efforts. I am most impressed. Tell me more about this numbing salve.”

“It comes from a plant that defends itself by exuding a paralyzing coating. Anything that tries to eat it will find itself helpless for a long while. If it manages to eat too much, it will die. However, I’ve found a way to take that toxin and process into the anesthetic salve. It has proven very useful.”

“I daresay it has. Does that plant grow here? I think the Seer will be very interested in it.”

Glenn shook his head. “I’m afraid that it only grows in the mountainous regions of Griffonstone.”

“That’s a pity.” She looked around to see that the one with the injured wing had it treated and bandaged up. She noticed that Silk was now working on one of the other hunters who had been battered but not broken. The dragon was laid out on a slab of rock, and the thestral was working his hooves over the hide of the dragon who had an odd expression on his face. “What are you doing, Silk Touch?”

“My specialty – massage therapy. He’s got some deep bruising from the attack, but I can lessen the effects.”

The Matriarch blinked in surprise. “You learn something new from the oddest of sources,” she murmured.

# # #

The next afternoon, the camp was disturbed by the sound of thunder, but while severe storms were not unknown in that region, there currently was not a cloud in the sky. The thunder swelled and ebbed, disappeared and reappeared, sometimes shaking the camp with its intensity.

The Seer and her apprentice returned to a camp that was confused and concerned. There was no sign of Blue with them though. When queried, the Seer smirked and indicated a bundle on her back.

“Blue Streak left his magitek wings with me after deciding to run all the way back here. He was filled with so much energy that he needed to burn off some of it. You already know that he can run faster than we can fly, and what you’re hearing are sonic booms as he circles the camp. Apparently even the distance from the crystal chamber to here was insufficient to use up all the draconic power that he had been filled with.”

Lucida frowned. “If he already has this much, how much more is he expected to improve?”

The Seer merely raised an eye ridge. “We act as Bii Bolgokh has decreed. Ask him how much is enough.”

Eventually Blue raced into the camp, barely breathing hard. Cinder called a halt to the lesson she had been teaching and went over to Blue. She looked him over and said, “You are becoming more a dragon every day, my love.”

“You’re not kidding, Cinder,” Pif said as she took in his changing looks.

The changes that had started on the first day had grown considerably. His blue hooves were now like obsidian, and sapphire scales began where the hoof left off, covering his legs up to mid-thigh. His face had grown more angular, and fangs now poked out from his upper jaw. His slit eyes were now a shimmering gold, and his ears had grown and thickened until they resembled horns. His mane had doubled in length, but his tail had lost most except for a thick tuft on the end. The tail had thickened though, so it did not look out of place. He was looking less and less like a pony, and more like something entirely new.

Destined spoke up. “There are legends of a species that disappeared long before the establishment of Equestria. They were called the Kirin. I’m beginning to wonder if they weren’t a separate species, but a blend of pony and dragon that this world hasn’t seen in millennia.”

“Whatever he is, it’s sexy,” Cinder said with a lascivious smile.

“Call me what you like,” Blue said with a smirk. “Just don’t call me for the next hour or so.” He put a foreleg around Cinder, but she needed no urging to head off to the yurt with him.

Citrine noticed the almost hungry looks some of the other young dragonesses were giving Blue, and she grinned. “If he keeps this up, Cinder’s going to have a fight on her claws with envious females.”

Pif nodded. “I can taste their lust already. Our Blue is a heck of a stud!”

# # #

That night, Citrine decided to change things up a bit. An overcast sky left the area enshrouded in darkness barely relieved by the various fires burning throughout the encampment. When her audience gathered as usual around the central fire, she stood alone without her assistants or her stage. When everyone was ready, she used her crystallomancy skills to charge up some pebbles. She tossed the first into the fire, and it flared up with gold flames.

Silhouetted by fire, she started her act. “Tonight, I will tell you of one of the great horrors that haunts the Dragon Lands. This is the tale of…” She flipped another crystal pebble into the fire and it flared up a baleful red hue. “…the UNDEAD SMILODON!”

There were some squeals from the hatchlings, and grins from the youths.

 

 

Citrine continued. “It was a dark, moonless night, just like this one, and there was a bunch of little hatchlings just like you who wanted to stay up way too late. However, their giggles and their squealing had attracted something... something not of this world.”

FOOSH! Green fire lit the clearing this time.

“This thing was fueled by madness and anger. It prowled the plains looking for vengeance, but it was attracted to the sound of giggles.” Citrine loomed over the hatchlings and pointed an accusing hoof. “Giggles like yours!

The hatchlings squealed in thrilled excitement. While everyone was distracted though, Destined had telekinetically grabbed the skull of the Alpha Smilodon that had been kept as a trophy. Carefully he moved it into position behind the fire, keeping it out of sight of the young audience. The elders of course could see it, but they merely grinned in anticipation of what would happen next.

Citrine continued, “The undead smilodon wanted his revenge for his death at the talons of the dragons who had killed him, and the children of his target were the perfect means. He just watched...waiting... plotting until the time was just right.”

FOOSH! Blue flames leapt into the air.

“It is the hour! It is his time! HE COMES FOR YOU!” She pointed at one of the more brave hatchlings, and a scary non-dragon roar rolled through the camp.

FOOSH! Lambent violet fire dazzled the audience, and Destined floated the skull into the fire so that it looked like the demon was coming out of it, turning to look at the hatchlings who started freaking out. The skull roared, courtesy of a small sound spell from Destined.

“Quick! Only your fire can stop him!” Citrine cried out, expecting one or two of the hatchlings might actually do it. She was startled though when all the kids took in a deep breath. Her ears drooped, and she dived out of the way just before several streams of fire hit the skull, turning it into ash. Destined was left looking awestruck while Cinder and a few elders were laughing.

Citrine stood back up, and without missing a beat, said, “The cycle has been broken and the land has been saved thanks to the hatchling heroes!”

The hatchlings all started cheering. Citrine took a bow and went over to join Pif.

Pif flashed Citrine a grin as the hatchlings were taken to their beds. “I bet you weren’t expecting to be staring at the receiving end of a group flamethrower.”

Citrine was busy putting out a couple of smoldering spots in her tail. “I made it work... but no – I wasn’t expecting to be roasted tonight. Can’t say that I didn’t get full audience participation though!” she added with a grin.

After the children were put to bed, the fire was stoked to light up the central area, and drummers started a lively beat. The dragon youths had their turn with lively dancing, and Cinder and Blue soon joined in. Silk and Destined followed quickly, and Citrine dragged Pif into the wild mix moments later, despite the changeling’s protest about her dancing ability.

Watchful found a perch to oversee everyone as usual, but was surprised when Glenn fluttered over to land next to her.

“How about coming with me and dance instead of sitting over here by yourself as always?” he asked.

The changeling griffon was flustered – torn between her duties and desires. “I… But I should…”

Glenn grabbed her arm and said, “No excuses. Come on!”

He took off, and Watchful reflexively followed. They landed in the midst of the dancers, and Glenn let go of her and started to imitate the dragons’ moves. The beat was exciting, and Glenn’s smile was inviting. She let herself go and followed him in the dance. The more she got involved, the more invigorated she felt, and she drank in the wild emotions of the dancers. Soon she was virtually drunk on them, and she laughed and danced with more exuberance than ever before, and it was Glenn who had to work hard to keep up with her. The drummers increased their tempo, and so did Watchful until the pounding reached a crescendo, and she screamed in joy. She grabbed Glenn and hugged and nuzzled him, lost in the emotion.

While taken a little by surprise as to Watchful’s uninhibited response to the dance, Glenn was more than pleased with the result. He led her away from the group before the dragons started another dance, and sat her down on a log near the edge of the encampment. There was still just enough light to see her face, and he could see the dreamy smile on it. He knew she was a little drunk on positive emotions, so he just waited a little for her to calm down. Meanwhile he was happy just to snuggle with her, while she kept nuzzling him with her beak. If she had been in pony form, he had no doubt that she would have been kissing him a lot, but frankly he preferred the griffon expression of affection.

After a while, Watchful finally spoke. “You cheated. You knew I would get high on all that joy of life.”

Glenn nodded. “Did you enjoy it?”

Watchful giggled. “Yes, I did. Promise me something?”

“What?”

“Do it again next time.”

“I promise.” He nuzzled her. “Will you be my special hen?”

“Are you sure about that, Glenn? If I commit to you, it won’t be a temporary thing. That’s not how Red Changelings do things.”

“Right now I only see a beautiful, loyal, and wonderful she-griff. I’m young but not stupid. I’m not asking for a full commitment yet, but I do want to see if we can be good together. I think we can. So do you want to give it a try?”

Watchful smiled, a tear in her eye. “I do. I really do.”

“Thank you.” He nuzzled her again before asking, “Do you want to go back to the dance?”

Watchful shook her head. “Right now, I am perfectly happy here with you.”

“Me too.” He put a wing around her and hugged her close while they watched their friends continue the dance of life.

# # #

Blue opened his mouth, and an intense stream of blue fire roared out to splash against the column of stone that was his target. It continued as the column started glowing from the heat, brighter and brighter until it slumped as it changed to a liquid.

The beam of fire faltered, and Blue collapsed with a groan. “It’s too much.”

The Northern Seer said, “For now it might be, but soon it will be a trivial matter.”

Blue looked at the glowing slag and asked, “How am I even doing that?”

“Your body is so saturated with draconic mana that it is changing form to adapt. You are being prepared for what is to come.”

“And what is to come?”

“You oppose nothing less than the minion of Destruction. To survive, you must be stronger than her. Even now, you are not ready.”

“I have been suffering this training for nearly three weeks now. When will I be ready?”

“We work the will of higher power – we do not know all the answers.”

“I am beginning to wonder if you know any,” he mumbled to himself before struggling to his hooves once more. “Okay, let’s get on with it.”

# # #

Luna settled down next to Destined in the dreamscape. “The battle has been joined,” she said without preamble.

“And my parents?” destined asked with concern.

“House Path are defenders, not front-line troops. They stand ready to help Equestria if the need arises. None are involved so far. How does Blue Streak fare?”

“He feels he’s close, but he’ll come back sooner if necessary.”

“Nay, he should continue. We are committed to these paths. Despite the terrible fighting, 'tis the Nightmare that is the greatest threat. He must be ready for it.”

“Hopefully he will be. Thankfully there have been no more History changes. Maybe Chrysalis is concentrating on the battle now?”

“Mayhap, but that could be wishful thinking.”

Destined sighed. “I know. I keep all our important stuff together to grab at a moment’s notice for just that reason. The trouble is that Blue and I are separated for much of the day, and I worry that the crisis might occur while he’s away training. The Seer won’t let anyone else accompany him.”

“Thou must not worry overmuch about things that thou cannot control. If it comes to that, remember that 'tis thee who art the Alicorn of Time, and there is always a way.”

Destined snorted. “Alicorn of Time – first time I’ve heard me being called that.”

“'Tis the truth.”

“It’s a heavy responsibility.”

“Aye, that it is, and so it is for all alicorns. Our great power comes at a price, for we are the chosen of Harmony, and our powers are its tools for achieving its goal.”

“And mine is time. Somehow I have to use that if the need arises.”

Luna nodded. “Be strong, my son.”

Destined nuzzled Luna and said, “I’ll try, Mama.”

They enjoyed the intimacy for a little while before Luna spoke up again.

“Hast thou any news for thy family?”

Destined thought for a moment. “All is going well for us at the moment. The clan has thoroughly accepted us now. Glenn has enamored himself with the Matriarch and the Seer for his treatment of an injured dragon. Forest delights the youths with his illusions. Oh – and Watchful and Glenn seem to have hit it off now.”

“Ah, so Lucida is no longer the target of the young prince’s affections?”

Destined chuckled. “Nope. We knew it was merely an infatuation with someone new and exciting, but we had a lot of fun teasing Lucy about it. The way Watchful responded to Glenn though makes us feel that he’s more serious about this relationship. It probably helps that Watchful felt the same way from the start. She just was hesitant because of her sense of duty.”

“The changelings are an interesting species. So different from our own, but win their hearts and you have no better companion. Prince Glenn could do a lot worse than choose her as a life partner.”

“You’re speaking to a pony who has a changeling for a father – you don’t need to convince me.”

Luna smiled. “And I have the same one as a herd-mate. I do not regret the choice either.”

They were quiet for a long moment before Destined asked, “What do you know of Kirin?”

Luna looked surprised before she replied, “The Kirin were a legend even when I was a filly. It is thought that they were present back in the time of the creation of Equus. What happened to them has been lost to time. Why dost thou ask?”

“It’s Blue; I’ve already told you about the physical changes previously, but I realize that he seems to be becoming somewhat like how I have heard them described.”

“An interesting idea with weighty implications. Were the Kirin once a race of their own, or were they the harmonious blend of pony and dragon?”

“Could you look into that for me, please?”

“I shall. Meanwhile I must bid thee pleasant dreams for the rest of the night. I must be away on my duties. I will let the family know that all is well.”

“Bye, Mama Luna. I love you.”

“And I love thee too, dear child. Farewell.”

Luna faded from the dreamscape, and Destined woke himself up to gaze at the face of his lover in bed with him. He smiled. ‘Yes, it’s wonderful to find the person that you can truly love.’ He leaned over to gently kiss Silk on the nose before settling back to sleep once more.

# # #

It did not hurt anymore. After the best part of a month of physical torture, he felt the power fill him without pain. He seemed to float in a sea of energy, while the four Seers were discrete points of power surrounding him. He let his senses expand, and he felt the presence of something… someone… a being of such immensity that it could not be perceived as a whole.

You are ready.

The thought came to him as powerfully and inexorably as a tidal wave. “Who are you?” Blue asked without a voice.

I am the balance that you seek. I am the antithesis of Destruction. I have many names, but you may call me Creation.

Why did I need to be so much stronger?

Just as the Nightmare is the minion of Destruction, you are my chosen champion. You are the warrior who will enable others to preserve my works. The time has come to achieve your destiny.

What do you mean by that?

The final battle begins, and you will be sorely tested. Be as strong of heart as you are now strong of body. Go now – you are needed.

Blue was about to ask another question when the mindscape seemed to explode. He found himself lying on the floor of the crystal cavern, and the four Seers struggling to their feet after being knocked over by the shockwave that had come from the transformed pony.

“What happened, Blue Streak?” the Western Seer asked.

Blue recalled Creation’s final words. “We are done here. I have to go join the others now.”

Without wasting more time on explanations, Blue raced out of the cave and accelerated to a speed that he could only dream of a month ago. He had to get back to his mate and children though – the sense of danger that Creation had impressed upon him with his final words spurring him on.

# # #

Lucida, Glenn, Pif, Cinder, and Destined had gathered outside the Matriarch’s yurt for a conversation. These had grown into a regular occurrence lately, and the subject today was leadership. Each of the young adults was being groomed for roles that would see great responsibility heaped on their backs, and they talked about the challenges that each would be facing. Pif would one day take over the hive from Free, but she was reluctant to give away her research. Lucida knew that she was slated to head House Path someday, but while she felt prepared to do so, she respected her father too much to ever want to take over before he died, and she did not want him to die anytime soon. Glenn had little interest in ruling his mother’s kingdom, preferring instead to improve Griffonstone’s community by his other works. Destined did not feel he was suited to ruling at all, but as his name seemed to imply, he had already started down that path, and he was unsure of what to do. Alone out of all of them, Cinder felt comfortable with the fact that one day she would lead the clan, but her mother still had centuries left in her, and that day would not come soon. The only thing that bothered her at all was the fact that her mate would not live to see that day.

“Blue Streak is a magnificent warrior, and the finest mate that I could wish for, but he is still a pony despite all the changes that he has undergone lately. I am saddened that he will never share that achievement with me.”

The Matriarch gently put a huge arm around her daughter and waved the other in the direction of the two dracoponies who were being occupied by Egg Warden a short distance away. “Take comfort in his legacy, Shaikhan-Gal. His spirit will live on in these two, and one day, maybe Era will be a Matriarch too. I think he would be proud of that.”

Cinder nodded. “I am sure he would, but am I going to spend centuries being reminded of him every time I look at our children and missing him terribly?”

“I still miss your father, and over half a century has passed since his death. It is the curse of a long life, but it teaches you to appreciate what you have all the more. It is no coincidence why we refer to our mates as our greatest treasure.”

Destined said, “Auntie Celestia once told me the same thing – the appreciation part, not the treasure. She’s thousands of years old and has seen many loved ones come and go. I suppose I can expect the same.”

“Be thankful for your immortal family members, young alicorn. They will help you carry the emotional burden.”

Destined nodded. “Right now I’m living for my family. Immortality can wait.”

The Matriarch chuckled. “Indeed it can. But we seem to have drifted from the topic. Lucida, do you have…”

She was interrupted by a portal suddenly tearing open the sky, and dumping an object on her back.

“What in the world was that?” the Matriarch exclaimed, bending her neck around to peer at what had landed on her.

Derpy sat straddling the Matriarch’s back, and she grinned nervously at the huge dragon. “Um… hi.”

“Who are you?” the dragon demanded.

The pegasus did not have a chance to answer before Cinder exclaimed, “It’s Derpy. Mother – another time-attack must have happened!”

Lucida gasped. “Blue isn’t back here yet!”

“We gotta go!” Derpy insisted, fluttering off the Matriarch’s back.

“Everyone, find the rest of the team-members!” Lucida ordered. “I’ll grab our equipment.” She raced off to the nearby yurt even as the others dashed off to locate Citrine, Forest, Silk, and Watchful. Fortunately their routines made them easy to find and they were quickly gathered together, but of course there was still no sign of Blue Streak.

Derpy pointed towards the horizon. “The time-storm is coming. We have to leave now!”

Destined protested, “But without Blue, I won’t have the power to navigate to the past!”

“If we don’t go now, the past will be permanently changed!” Derpy yelled.

Reflexively, Destined exerted his power, and time slowed to a crawl. He needed time to think! Luna had told him that he would find a way, but what could he do? His ability to manipulate time could not get Blue here any faster – he didn’t even know exactly where he was! Then a thought occurred to him. He didn’t know where he was, but he knew where he would be if time had remained unchanged. It would involve a risk that he had avoided up until now – taking a History path that was of different probability. There was a chance that he would not find his way back to the correct moment, but without Blue, there might be no point in going with Derpy. He had to try. Steeling his nerves, he fixed a destination in his mind and exerted his power once more. Destined Path ceased to exist in that probability.

#

#

#

Destined re-entered reality, but not as he had previously experienced. It was a moment frozen in time – a quantum event – one of the infinite number of possibilities at that particular moment in an infinite quantity of those. It was like a diorama filled with exact replicas of everything he knew, but as lifeless as a construct. Birds hung unmoving in the air, windswept leaves failed to flutter to the ground, flames in the fireplace were eerily locked into place, and dragons were caught in mid-step.

Is this what the Doctor does when he isolates us from the effects of the History changes?’ Destined wondered.

He moved through the campsite, looking for the one thing that he desperately hoped to find. His heart leapt as he finally spotted Blue Streak. The transformed pony was just as immobile as everything else, but it was clear that he was desperately looking around for something, and Destined realized that it had to be the rest of the team. Only now he noticed that they weren’t here, frozen along with everyone else.

This is the reality where we were forced to leave with Derpy without waiting for Blue! Well, time to change that.’

Destined put an arm around Blue and again exerted his power. It was much harder this time to wrench Blue out of the frozen moment, but he managed, and they fell through the time stream.

Destined returned to reality a fraction of a second after he had left, but he was still holding Blue.

“What in Tartarus…?” Blue began.

“No time! Hit it, Derpy!” Destined shouted.

The vortex engulfed them a terrifyingly brief moment before the time storm hit.

# # # # # # # # #

 
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