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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26. Chapter 16 - Team Growth

“You have got to be kidding me!” Pif exclaimed as she stared incredulously at Hype.

Hype shrugged. “No, I really have never been in a hive network.”

Pif was lost for words for a long moment. “But… you… Dad… er, Mom… you’ve got to have linked up!”

“Well, we have our bond, I suppose, but that’s all. Come to think of it, that’s what I was missing while we were in the past. I seem to have re-established that with this History’s Free Agent. Is it like that?”

Pif rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure; your bond is like a hive link, just like a match flame is like the sun.”

“Oh. Well, I’ve heard of the hive networks of our allies, but I’ve never explored that because we didn’t have a hive of our own. With just Mom and myself, there just didn’t seem to be any point.”

“No point? Sheesh! I hate being disconnected from our hive network. It’s so much a part of being a changeling that if it wasn’t for Dad growing up a griffon, I wouldn’t have believed that it was possible. I’m going to have to link you into ours as soon as possible.”

“No, you’re not,” Path interjected.

Pif looked at her father curiously. “Huh? Why not, Dad?”

“I got lost in Dianthia’s network the first time that I was linked up to it. Even though Hype is a changeling, she needs to be introduced to a network gradually if she has zero experience with one.”

“Oh, I see.” Pif nodded thoughtfully, and then brightened. “I know – I’ll hook her up to my research mini-network. With just twelve drones in it, it will ease her into the experience. After that, I’ll add on my nine intelligence operatives. By then she should be ready for the full experience, and I’ll be there to guide her around.”

“Let me know when you’re ready to do that,” Free said. “I’m going to block her off until then. I really don’t want to have to mind-dive after her like I did with Path.”

“Okay, Dad,” Pif replied.

“That’s weird, you know?” Hype said.

“What is?”

“You calling your mother, Dad.”

Pif grinned. “He’s almost always in male form, and been a father to me, so I have very rarely called him Mom. What’s going to be really weird is you calling him, Mom, and Mama Twilight, Dad.”

There was a murmur of agreement from the others.

Hype shrugged. “That’s what they are – current gender has nothing to do with it.”

“Hi, everybody!” came a cheery call from the doorway. “Hello – this is new.”

Destined got up to greet Silk who had just finished work and had come to the castle to have dinner with the family. After giving him a hug and a kiss, Destined turned to Hype and said, “This is my fiancé, Silk Touch. Silk, this is Hypotenuse, Hype for short, and my brand-new sister.”

“A pleasure to meet you at last,” Hype said.

Silk smiled back at her and said, “Sounds like there’s quite a story to this, Des.”

“We’ll tell you all about it over dinner, but the short version is that we’ve just returned from another History fix.”

“And I missed it? I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.”

Citrine grinned. “They brought home the best bit anyway!”

Pif poked the crystal pony. “Calm down, girl. She might have other ideas, y’know?”

“Never hurts to ask,” Citrine replied unrepentantly.

“You’ll get used to that,” Silk said to Hype sympathetically.

“I was beginning to wonder,” the Chrome Changeling replied.

“So, how long were you gone this time?” Silk asked Destined.

“Only a few days; long enough to miss you though.”

“That’s sweet of you. I’ll do something special for you tonight to make up for those days.”

Just then, Spike came in to announce that dinner was ready to be served, and that everyone should make their way to the dining room.

As the family trooped out into the hallway, there was a flash and bang of teleportation, and the Lunar Princess appeared. She smiled at seeing everyone and said, “Good evening, everypony. My timing is perfect, it would seem.”

Path chuckled. “You always seem to know when we’re about to eat. Anypony would think that you joined our herd for the food,” he said as he walked over to the alicorn to give her a kiss on the cheek.

“I have heard worse reasons over the centuries,” Luna riposted as she returned his favor.

Twilight, Free, and Roseclaw all came over to give their herdmate an appropriate greeting too. They then continued on to the dining room, but not before Luna spotted Hype. An eyebrow raised in curiosity was all the reaction she gave, confident that she would soon hear all about this new changeling. She made it a point to find a place at the table that was close to Hype though, and smiled benignly at her as the servants brought in the food and served it up.

Hype was a little overwhelmed by having Luna sitting across the table from her, sharing their mealtime just like she was just an ordinary pony. Although she knew the Princess from the many royal occasions and meetings with Twilight, the Alicorn of the Moon had always seemed like an untouchable near-godlike being. But here she was chatting and laughing along just like a member of the family… no… as a member of the family. Technically, Luna was now her herd-mother too after she had been welcomed into the same family. She was still boggled by that thought. She hoped that the Princess wouldn’t catch her staring!

“You’re staring,” came a deep feminine voice from beside Hype.

The golden dragoness smirked at Hype as the Chrome Changeling blushed at being caught out. “I can’t help it,” she admitted. “Even after being told about this family by the others, it all seems so surreal.”

Cinder nodded understandingly. “It was a bit of a culture-shock to me also when I first joined House Path, and they didn’t even have Luna in the family then. Don’t worry – she doesn’t bite, and the rest will become familiar also.”

“Even that?” Hype asked as she inclined her head towards Spike who was seasoning his food with crushed rubies. “I grew up with Spike as my big brother, but this one has never known me. He seems to regard me as some sort of weird doppelganger of Pif, and his emotions are all over the place. Does he dislike changelings?”

Cinder guffawed. “Hardly! In fact he championed the cause of changelings along with Mama Twilight. I’m afraid that all you’re dealing with is just a very young and confused dragon. Once he figures you out, he’ll be fine.”

“He’s older than me though!”

“Surely you realize that we dragons age a lot differently from ponies, or even changelings? That’s both mentally as well as physically. I’ve never told Blue my actual age because of that, but I’m sixty-eight years old – double that of Blue. Yet by dragon standards, I’m younger than him!” She snickered. “I was barely of mating age when we met, and my mother was extremely surprised that we decided to have children when I was so young. I hadn’t even reached my first century yet! It’s going to be interesting when she finally gets to meet her grandchildren.”

Hype closed her eyes and nodded, recalling her past life. “I suppose I know the facts, but when you grow up with a dragon, you don’t really appreciate those differences. Now they’re very much in my face. It makes me feel a bit awkward.”

“More awkward than a dragon mating a pony in a mixed pony, griffon, and changeling family?” Cinder pointedly asked.

“Umm… you’ve got me there.”

Cinder guffawed. “Let me tell you later about the stupid things I did when I first met Blue. You’ll feel a lot better about your situation.”

Hype smiled. “Thanks – I’d appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome. Now eat up before some ravenous pony eats your share of the food.”

“Or dragon?”

Cinder grinned toothily. “Now you’re catching on!”

Pif had been listening with half an ear to Hype and Cinder’s conversation, but most of her attention was on Glenn and Watchful who were awkwardly stealing glances at each other, and she tasted the emotions that the griffon was leaking out profusely. She turned to Destined and pointed discreetly at the two, and said quietly, “Are you aware…?”

Destined nodded. “Yep. I wonder if I looked that silly while I was getting the hots for Silk?”

Pif grinned. “Worse, because you were pretending it wasn’t happening.”

Destined blushed a little before replying, “Do you think it’s puppy-love? They’ve barely known each other for a few days.”

“Maybe, but Glenn’s feelings are strong. It’s a pity that I can’t gauge Watchful’s directly, but plain old-fashioned observation tells me that she likes what she sees. Give it a while longer and see what happens.”

Hype’s attention was drawn to their conversation. “I talked with Watchful, and she’s uncertain but desires more. If Glenn is serious about his affections, I believe they could make good partners.”

Pif nodded. “Yeah. That’s the thing with changeling Harvesters – they really get invested in any relationships that they make with somepony, or somegriff in this case. Glenn could do a lot worse than having a changeling lover.”

“Number one best choice!” Citrine declared, giving Pif a hug. “Wanna threesome, Hype?”

Pif rolled her eyes. “Chill out, Citrine. You’re making my new sister uncomfortable.”

“But not you, am I right? Go on, you can admit it to me!” Citrine said with a grin.

“I am not making out with my half-sister!”

Citrine smirked. “That leaves her just to me then.”

Hype looked at Citrine askance before she asked Pif, “Is she always like this?”

“Pretty much,” Pif said with a resigned shake of her head. “But that’s part of her charm. She dragged me out of being a reclusive stick-in-the-mud. Now I hope to never be without her.”

“Aw, I love you too,” Citrine said, giving Pif a big kiss on the cheek.

Hype smiled as she tasted the flood of love coming from the crystal pony. “Are you thinking of having children yet?”

“Whoa!” Citrine exclaimed. “Let’s not be too hasty! We’re young and life is grand, so let’s explore that before settling down.”

“I’m with Citrine on this one. Between my work and my relationship with Citrine, I don’t really have time for children at the moment.”

“But you’re a queen and you have the resources of a hive, so why not take advantage of that?” Hype asked.

“Were you raised in a hive? I wasn’t, and I have no intention of subjecting any children that I have with Citrine to a hive upbringing. Biology says that eventually I’ll go into breeding mode and make drones of my own, and they’ll grow up in the hive, but not my real kids. I might not want to have them now, but when I do, they’ll be part of this family, and not foisted upon hive workers.”

Hype considered her own upbringing and realized that Pif was right. “I know that I’m glad to have had loving parents and a family. I withdraw my suggestion. While I’m stumbling around making faux pas, I might as well ask Destined if he plans to have foals?”

Destined blushed. “We’re both stallions!” he objected.

“Being the wrong sex didn’t stop my parents,” Hype pointed out.

“Not talking about this!” Destined said firmly.

Silk grinned and reached over to pat Destined on the hoof. “Don’t worry, dear – when the time is right, we’ll decide which one of us gets to be the mare.”

Destined’s blush deepened until you would swear he glowed. Those listening to the conversation started laughing, and Silk chuckled at his fiancé’s reaction.

“Sorry, love, but I couldn’t resist.”

Destined raised his eyes to meet those of Luna, who was trying to stifle a giggle behind a hoof. “Mama Luna, get me out of this, please!”

With a smile still on her face, Luna nodded and decided to let him off the hook. “As thou hast not heard the latest news, I will update thee. Word has come back from our ground forces that they are halfway to the borders of Zebrica. Supply lines have been successfully set up, and on the morrow, our first wave of airships will depart to bring more equipment and reinforce the pegasus squads guarding the troops. It shall not be long before we bring the fight to Chrysalis at last.”

Blue spoke up. “Have you noticed the change in Chrysalis’ priorities? First she was trying to change her past losses to wins, then she was trying to get her daughter back, but now she’s directly targeting us. It’s become a lot more personal now that she’s become aware that it us who have been foiling her.”

Luna frowned. “She is aware? How dost thou know this for certain?”

Lucida answered, “From the mouth of the agent we caught. Before he tried to kill us, he told us and declared that House Path would fall.”

“That is most unsettling. We have lost an advantage, and House Path has become a target. We must prepare for that eventuality.”

Blue said “Speaking of that, I believe that I should be doing more about heeding the vision that said that I had to grow stronger.”

“How dost thou intend to do so?”

“I’ve been thinking about that, and it occurred to me that I gained the ability to absorb and store energy back when I was on that trip to the Dragon Lands while I was barely more than a colt. I don’t think it was an accident after all – I think I was being prepared for this moment.”

“What?!” Twilight exclaimed. “You can’t tell me that nearly getting killed was part of a plan?!”

“The getting almost killed part, no, but taking advantage of the healing ritual to open up my mana channels so that I could work with Des to time-travel – that seems more than likely.”

“How could anyone know it would be needed?”

Blue shrugged. “Prophecy? Divine foresight? How did Auntie Celestia know that Nightmare Moon would be freed from her prison on the Moon on that particular night? Foretelling has played a major part in our history. Anyway, I think that I need to go back there and train myself to be able to take in more power.”

“No.”

“Huh? Why not?”

“The last person to do anything remotely like that was Tirek. I don’t want to see that happen to you.”

“You’re comparing me to Tirek?” Blue asked incredulously.

“You don’t think Tirek started off as a heartless monster, do you? His brother, Scorpan, has told us about Tirek as a youth, and how close they used to be. He used to be a good-natured centaur until he discovered his talent for taking in magic, but he was corrupted by it and grew evil. I won’t let the same thing happen to you.”

“I won’t let it happen, Mama. I am a warrior-scholar of House Path, and I am sworn to protect it and all those threatened by powers that they cannot defend against.”

“You can’t know how it will affect you; it’s too risky!” Twilight objected.

“It hasn’t affected me so far. I believe that I have been chosen for this!” Blue replied sternly.

“I won’t let you go!”

“Don’t do this to me, Mama!”

Lucida said, “I think Mama Twilight has a point, Blue.”

Luna shook her head. “Nay, I have witnessed more, and I believe Blue Streak has the right of it.”

Twilight rounded on the Moon Princess. “Luna! Surely you can’t side with him?! You witnessed what happened with Tirek.”

“Aye, and I know what one young alicorn did with the power of four. Wert thou corrupted? Didst thou not give it all up for the greater good? Have faith in thy son.”

“Alicorn magic is aligned with our Aspects as avatars of Harmony. Blue seeks to store wild mana, raw magic that has no alignment. It is totally different! Free – back me up here!”

Free grimaced. “Twi, remember the battle at the Crystal Kingdom? I not only had my power and the love energy that I was getting from the Crystal Heart, but in the final battle, I had yours, Path’s, and Roseclaw’s as well. I handled it, and I can’t see why Blue can’t either.”

Twilight looked aghast. “Not you too? Rose, what about you? What do you think?”

“Blue Streak is a powerful warrior who should not be limited in his efforts to protect our House and Equestria,” Roseclaw answered. Blue started to smile, but Roseclaw continued. “However, this is an unknown quantity, and too much of a risk for our son. I do not agree that it is in our best interests.”

“I think Mom might be right,” Lucida said. “We’ve already seen how things can so easily go wrong. Blue has enough power already to cope with the time travel needs.”

“There! You see!” Twilight said triumphantly. “Even your sister agrees with me.”

Blue looked frustrated. “I never said it was without risk, but we’re fighting a war here. Risks have to be taken! Dad – you know I’m right, don’t you?”

Path sighed. “You’re all right, but Blue is correct. We did not want this, but Chrysalis has turned this into a battle for our very existence. Risks can and must be taken. I am siding in favor of Blue.”

Blue’s relief was palpable. “There – it’s settled.”

Twilight slammed her forehooves on the table. “No, it isn’t! By my authority as a Princess of Equestria, I am forbidding this!”

Luna scowled. “Twilight, thou art not the only Princess here. Thou hast invoked thine authority, so thou dost force me to do the same. I favor Blue Streak’s quest. We are thus tied.”

“Then I will take this to Princess Celestia and Cadance if I have to!” Twilight shouted.

“Do what thou dost believe is right, but I will do so as well.”

Twilight fumed, but nodded reluctantly.

Blue got up and said, “Pardon me – I seem to have lost my appetite. Coming with me, Cinder?”

Cinder reluctantly put down what she had been eating and said, “Coming, my love.”

There was a pall left over the dining table which inhibited conversation until Hype eventually said, “I can honestly say this never happened at my family dinners. I think the worst Dad ever did was scold me for not doing my homework.”

“Education is important,” Twilight mumbled.

Free put his arm around Twilight as he chuckled. “That’s my Sparkles! Cheer up, Twi – it’s not the end of the world.”

“Yet!” Twilight retorted. “Big help you were.”

“I love you, Twi, but I still gotta do what I think is right. Doesn’t mean that I won’t do my best to make sure Blue survives his ambitions.”

Twilight sighed and leaned against Free’s shoulder. “So will I, Free. So will I.”

Path looked at Hype and said, “I hope this incident hasn’t soured you on joining this family.”

Hype shook her head. “Don’t forget that I can taste the emotions of everyone. All your passion and strong words just show how much you care. I cannot think of any other family that I would rather join.”

# # #

The next day, Blue stormed out of Canterlot Castle, lips pressed tightly together, glaring furiously at anyone who dared get in his way. Even hardened Royal Guards gave him a wide berth as he made his way through the Great Hallway and out the front gate. As soon as he was clear, he activated his magitek wings and took off towards Ponyville.

Cinder had been following close behind, along with Destined, Lucida, Pif, and of course Watchful. They took off in pursuit of Blue.

It was several minutes before Twilight also emerged from the castle, accompanied by the Alicorn of the Moon. “I’m sorry that it had to be this way, Luna, but I believe that Celestia and Cadance’s support of my views is justification for my ban.”

Luna sighed. “My sister has been a wise and loving ruler for centuries, but I must remind thee that she is not infallible. And I must point out to thee that thine own brother sided with Blue Streak. Let us hope that the right decision has been made this day.”

Twilight winced at the memory of her clash with Shining Armor. “So do I. We will see you for dinner tonight, I hope?”

“Of course. Just because we disagree on some matters does not mean that we are not still a united herd.” She yawned widely. “However, this is one princess of the night who needs her sleep. I will see thee later.”

“Sleep well, Luna,” Twilight said as she nuzzled her herd-mate. Then, as Luna walked back into the castle and her royal suite, Twilight lit up her horn and teleported home.

# # #

To Cinder’s surprise, Blue did not head to Twilight’s castle, but instead went to the Chrome Hive. They did not use the public entrance though, but instead took a side entrance that was restricted to the Chrome Changelings and a few select exceptions. Naturally Pif had unrestricted access, but her siblings were also exempt. Watchful had been granted special access privileges in order to do her duty, and the changeling guards at the door allowed them through without hesitation. Pif fell in step with Blue and they made their way down to her own section of the hive. Most of that was occupied by the various research facilities, but one room was furnished with a variety of chairs, sofas, and lounging mats. Blue threw himself onto the biggest sofa, lay his head on his crossed forelegs, and fumed.

The others took up various seats and silently kept him company. Soon a drone entered, pushing a trolley laden with refreshments that had been summoned by Pif via the hive’s network. When the drone had departed, Lucida spoke up.

“What are you going to do now, Blue?”

Blue growled and replied, “You tell me – you supported Mom’s views.”

“Yes, I did. I was asked my opinion and I gave it. That doesn’t mean that I’m right. I learned the hard way that I’m not infallible. So I’m asking again – what do you intend to do now?”

Blue took in a deep breath and huffed. “Lucy, if you’re going to ask, you better be prepared to back me up. If you don’t think you can, you’d better leave now.”

Lucida went over to Blue and put a wing around him. “You’re my big brother, and I will always listen to what you say. I’m only leader of our team because that’s what I’m good at doing, but you have years of experience over me on other things. I’m prepared to back you up if it means keeping our team together and strong.”

Blue looked at her and smiled gratefully. “Thanks, sis. Sometimes I forget that you always had my back before Cinder decided that was her job.”

The dragon snorted a puff of smoke as she choked back a laugh. Lucida smiled before pressing Blue further. “So?”

“I’m going to the Dragon Lands. Last night I told Cinder that whatever the decision, we would be going there today.”

“Not without me, you’re not!” Destined said firmly.

“I’ve already packed for the trip,” Pif said. “You really should guard your emotions better. Besides, Citrine already bet that you would.”

“Citrine knows that Blue’s going?” Lucida asked. “Great. Half the House probably knows by now.”

“Nah! Not quite,” came a cheerful voice from the doorway.

Everyone’s eyes turned to see Citrine there, but not alone. Glenn and Forest followed her into the room, both looking about curiously as this was their first time there.

“How did those two get in here?” Pif asked.

“I told the guards that you asked me to bring them. When you’re the fiancée of their Princess, they tend to believe you.”

Pif groaned. “The way you can manipulate your emotional output, you could make them believe that we’re all pink changelings now. Okay – better question is why are they here?”

“They’re time-team members now. Of course they should come too,” Citrine explained as if it should be totally obvious.

Forest gave them an apologetic grin, but didn’t say anything. Glenn was smiling too, but it was aimed at Watchful. Their changeling guardian smiled back briefly before she forced herself to be properly neutral and alert.

Lucida sighed in resignation. “Now that they’re involved, I suppose they have to come along with us. I’m surprised that you didn’t drag in Silk too.”

“Oh, he’ll be along later,” Citrine replied cheerfully. “He figured that it would take you most of the day to prepare for the trip, so he’ll join you after work. He had some important appointments to keep today, but he’s clearing his schedule after that.”

Blue’s sour mood was lifting with this constant show of support, and he chuckled. “I hope you’re all prepared for a long trip. This probably isn’t going to be like the time-jumps where we can return to the same moment that we left and get on with our lives.”

“I think this is us getting on with our lives,” Cinder said. “Just like it was for me when I first joined the House, life is full of adventurous twists and turns. I, for one, am looking forward to what comes next, and I reckon that it will be good experience for our newcomers.”

Lucida nodded and looked over to Glenn and Forest. “If you’re going to come, we’re still going to give you lessons. The schoolroom has moved, not closed.”

“Understood,” Forest said.

“Just like a long field trip,” Glenn replied.

Blue laughed, recalling his own experiences at their age. “Yep, just like a field trip.”

# # #

Silk had been right in that their preparations had taken them most of the day. This worked out well because they decided that if they left later in the evening, they would not be missed until the morning. They used Pif’s meeting room as a rendezvous point, and various equipment accumulated. Eventually though, someone asked the obvious question.

“How are we going to take all this stuff to the Dragon Lands?” Pif asked. “Not to mention our two wingless team members.”

Blue paused and thought for a long moment before turning to Destined. “If you use my energy store, do you think you could teleport us all there?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Blue,” Destined replied. “I’ve only just started getting the hang of doing that, and you want me to go to overload already? Besides, I have never been there, so I can’t target it.”

“Oh, right. Anyone have any suggestions? We’d have to do this by relay otherwise.”

Lucida said, “There’s one other person who has been there. You could try asking Luna.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Blue said. “Des, do you think you could persuade her to help us? She was on our side, after all.”

“I can try, but do you think she might balk at defying her sister?”

“There’s always a possibility, but even if she says no, I don’t think she will tattle on us.”

“I’ll ask her after dinner.”

“Well, if that’s settled, I’m going to spend the rest of the day introducing Hype to my mini-network,” Pif said. “My researchers could use a mini-hub while I’m away, just like Zark does for my intelligence group.”

“Do you think she can handle it, Pif?” Destined asked. “She’s never been in one before, after all.”

“She’s a changeling queen, and I’m betting sheer instinct will guide her. Don’t worry – I won’t leave her hooked up if I don’t think she can cope in my absence.”

Pif was about to leave the roof when Free Agent appeared in the doorway and looked around. “Going somewhere?”

“Er… we’re making our own preparations for the coming conflict,” Pif extemporized.

“By going to the Dragon Lands?” Free asked with a smirk. “I might be a reluctant Queen, but I’m not a stupid one. Did you really think that you could do all this and not have it reach my notice?”

Pif sighed and her shoulders slumped. “I thought I had kept it quiet enough, but obviously I was wrong. So – what happens now?”

“Well, Path and I were discussing what alternatives you might have when this came to my attention. How were you planning to get there?”

“Umm… I was going to ask Luna if she could take us there,” Destined replied.

Free nodded. “Good idea – better than anything else that we could think of. Path and I can keep Twilight and Roseclaw distracted while you ask Luna.”

“You’re okay with this?” Lucida asked with a surprised look on her face.

“We don’t like going against your mothers, but we reckon that they’re being overprotective rather than logical in their stance. Staying safe and not taking risks is not what House Path is about though. We’re in the middle of this war whether we want it or not, and we risk losing it if we don’t take every opportunity to defend ourselves and others against Chrysalis and the Nightmare.”

“What about Princess Celestia? She’s certainly not going to like this when she finds out.” Pif pointed out.

Free grinned. “Good thing you sneaky kids didn’t tell Path and me about your plans, right? You can seek her forgiveness after all this over.”

Pif reached up to throw her arms around Free. “Thanks, Dad,” she said as she hugged him fervently.

“You’re welcome, Pif.”

Destined looked at Lucida questioningly. She nodded in answer to his unasked question, and he turned back to the griffon changeling. “Papa Free, can you and I go see Dad? I think we need to talk.”

# # #

Hype gazed around the mental landscape in awe. A vast library surrounded her, stretching row after row in her mind, and a dozen motes of light flitted between them, pulling virtual books and bringing them to an equally virtual study desk. If she focused her attention on the motes, they resolved into avatars of Pif’s research assistants, each busily working on projects.

“Is this what the main network is like too?” she asked Pif who stood beside her, watching her reactions.

“Yes and no. This library is merely a visualization that is useful for my work group. Because this mini-network is primarily for my research projects, I maintain a link to the main network’s store of knowledge as represented by this virtual library. However, you will find that the rest of the main hive network is very different. You have to realize that the hive-mind is the sum of the Blue Hive’s, and now the Chrome Hive’s, total accumulated knowledge over the centuries, so the depths of that knowledge and all the cross-connections are too great for any one mind to comprehend. Therefore each workgroup maintains a virtual room for their project so that they are not overwhelmed, and they are constantly being created and dissolved again as their need passes. Without a virtual room, you would be confronted by a nearly infinite number of pathways to choose from, and even the Queen who is the hub of the network can only comprehend it in general structure. Papa Free took a lot of time to learn his way around it when he inherited it from Chrysalis. Dad got lost in Queen Dianthia’s network when he first experienced one. I’m starting you off easy with just this mini-network. Once you’re comfortable and familiar with it, I’ll add on my other mini-network, and then ease you into the main one.”

“How do I use this though?”

“Well, you can use it like it’s a real library, but I’ve linked you as a sub-hub, so you’re in direct contact with all the drones in this mini-network, and you can just query them directly instead. For example – Zavak! Have you got that introductory material ready?”

One of the motes resolved into Pif’s head assistant in front of them. “All ready and waiting, Pif.” He looked at Hype and smiled. “Welcome to our network, Princess Hypotenuse.”

“Umm… thanks, but please don’t call me that. Just Hype will do.”

Zavak chuckled. “Just like your sister – she can’t stand formality either.”

“I’ve done nothing except being born into royalty. I don’t feel I’ve earned the title.”

“Well, it’s a slightly different situation within the hive, but I understand. Anyway, Pif has asked me to prepare a study program to ease you into using the hive-mind. I’ll be your personal instructor, but if you have problems outside of the lessons, just give me a call over the link. Pif just showed you how easy it is now that you’ve been connected.”

Hype looked at Pif. “You won’t be doing the instruction?”

“I’m going to be… otherwise engaged,” Pif replied.

Hype frowned. “So engaged that you won’t be able to deal with your own mini-network? What aren’t you telling me?”

Pif snorted in a mixture of frustration and chagrin. “I should have known you’d spot that right away. You’re too much like me despite your inexperience. Zavak was going to let you know later.”

“And you’re still avoiding the question,” Hype pointed out.

“The time-team is going with Blue to the Dragon Lands to train his energy storage ability. This is in direct contravention of Celestia and Twilight’s ruling, so we’re doing this clandestinely. Dad has given his support though. How do you feel about this though?”

Hype thought for a moment before replying. “Well, I’m not happy about defying my Dad, but if Mom wants to see this done, that’s a bit reassuring. However, I’m mostly disappointed that you didn’t ask me to come along.”

Pif smiled and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry that we didn’t tell you too, but we already have too many in the team, and you’re too new to this alternate world. You really need to fit yourself in here before you venture out again. Besides, if you really want to help, you can delay the discovery of our absence by impersonating us.”

“I suppose that’s no less of a defiance of orders than going with you. I’ll do my best. Mom will probably help me with that anyway.”

“Probably. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get used to you calling him ‘Mom’ though.”

Hype laughed. “It’s just as odd to me too when you call him Dad, you realize?”

Pif grinned. “I know. Anyway, I’ll leave you in Zavak’s capable hooves for now. I’ll come for you when it’s time for dinner.” With that, Pif’s avatar disappeared from the virtual library.

“Shall we begin?” Zavak asked.

“Oh, yes. Let’s show my sister that I’m not quite so helpless in this new world,” Hype replied with a fierce smile.

Oh, great – now I’ve got two of them!’ Zavak thought with a mental groan.

# # #

The atmosphere was subdued that evening at dinner time, and Twilight and Roseclaw rightly put it down to their ban on Blue’s training. What conversation there was carefully avoided that subject, and they stuck to harmless gossip and banalities. The family members split up earlier than usual with various excuses, but Twilight knew that she was being quietly rebuked. Nevertheless she was resolute in her decision.

Blue’s room was getting crowded by the time the last of the team gathered there. They did not have long to wait before Luna knocked at the door and joined them there.

“Path hath updated me on thy plans, Blue Streak. Thou dost desire my help in getting to the Dragon Lands?”

“If it would not be too much trouble?”

“Nay, 'tis not. Considering that thou will do this anyway without my help, 'tis better that I see thee there safely myself.” She frowned, her ears laying back against her head. “And I will impress upon the Matriarch once more that I will not take it kindly if harms befalls thee this time.”

“Thanks, Auntie Luna. When can you do this?”

“I leave for Night Court duties in half an hour. Be ready to depart then. What is thy rendezvous point?”

“The south entrance of the hive – it’s out of direct sight of the castle. We’ll be there with all of our equipment.”

“Very well. Queen Nocturne shall meet thee there on the hour.” Luna then left the room to rejoin the rest of her herd.

“Who's Queen Nocturne?” Glenn asked.

“One of Luna’s alter egos, the living goddess of dragon kind,” Cinder replied. “I never expected to have her as my mother-in-law though,” she added with a chuckle.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Blue said. “Right now we have to hustle. We need to get all our supplies to the rendezvous point on time, not to mention ourselves.”

“Already on it, Blue,” Pif said. “As we speak, my drones are collecting the equipment to bring it to the south entrance.”

“Let’s go then,” Blue said, heading for the door.

They bid farewell to Hype before carefully exiting Twilight’s castle without being noticed. As promised, they found all their equipment waiting for them at the south entrance, and they only had to wait a few minutes before the top of the hour.

With an abrupt flash of light and blast of wind, a monstrous dragon appeared out of nowhere. There were shouts of alarm among several of the group, and Watchful bravely stepped up to place herself between the huge dragon and those she was sworn to protect.

The dragon smiled down at her toothily. “Peace, Watchful Eyes. 'Tis I, Queen Nocturne.”

Watchful blinked in surprise before sagging with relief. She had been under no illusions about her chances against this mammoth creature.

“Gather together close to your equipment,” Nocturne/Luna instructed. “We must be away.”

“Are you sure that you will be able to find the Matriarch?” Blue asked.

“I left a talisman with the Seer. So long as it is in her possession, I will always be able to find her.”

As soon as the team was in a compact group, Nocturne enfolded them all in her prodigious wings. Magic potential grew enormously until it was released into a huge teleport spell, and a moment later the site was empty once more.

# # #

The team heard shouts and roars of alarm before Nocturne’s wings unfolded enough to reveal a campsite in chaos. The unheralded arrival of a dragon far bigger than the largest among them was more than a little unsettling, even to those who quickly realized who their visitor was. Gradually the uproar died down as the intruders made no hostile moves, and soon two large dragonesses approached and bowed.

“Hail, Queen Nocturne. To what do we owe the honor of your unexpected visit?” the largest said.

Greetings, Matriarch! I bring my nephew and his companions on a quest of great importance,” Nocturne replied in a booming and imperious voice. “It is my wish that thou dost offer them the hospitality of thy clan for as long as it is necessary to fulfil this quest.

“It shall be done, Your Majesty,” the Matriarch replied.

The other dragoness spoke up. “Has Blue Streak heeded the call of the vision at last?”

Nocturne nodded gravely. “Indeed, Seer. I trust that thou shalt see to this task with due care?

“I have been prepared for a long while, Queen Nocturne.”

Nocturne turned her massive head to gaze down fiercely at the Matriarch. “And I trust that I shall not be receiving word of some unfortunate incident as happened the first time that Blue Streak visited you?

The Matriarch, a dragon of no small power herself, wilted under the implied threat from the living goddess. “No harm shall come to Blue Streak nor his companions while they are guests of my clan,” she vowed.

Nocturne nodded in satisfaction. Then she smiled, although even that was intimidating to the lesser dragons who watched and listened in awe. “I also bring unto thee thy newest kin.” She furled her wings to release the team from her protection, and Cinder stepped forward, flanked by Blue. Each of them carried one of their children on their backs.

Cinder stopped in front of the Matriarch and said, “Hello, Mother. May I present to you Eon and Era, your new grandchildren.”

The Matriarch gaped in shock. “How can this be? It is far too soon since you sent word that you had conceived.”

“Our time war can be blamed, mother. I will explain in more detail later. Meanwhile, would you like to hold your grandkids?”

Cinder lifted Era off her back and held her up for the Matriarch, while Blue did the same with Eon. The great dragoness held out her hands and they placed the youngsters in them. Her talons curled protectively around them as she lifted them up to gaze at them from close up. She took in their unusual blend of draconic and pony features, and she smiled as they gazed back at her fearlessly. Tears welled in her eyes as she said, “They are beautiful. You have done me proud, my daughter. You too, son-in-law. I dared not hope that your union would bring me such wonderful treasures.”

Blue smiled in deep satisfaction. As soon as a dragon regarded someone as a treasure, you could be sure that they were beloved family. Eon and Era would have the protection and care of the whole clan now.

When she judged the moment was right, Nocturne announced, “I must leave you now. Other concerns demand my time. However, do not hesitate to call me if the need occurs. We face a dreadful enemy, and there is no knowing where and when she will strike. I bid you all farewell.

Nocturne’s magic grew again, and the gigantic dragoness disappeared in a flash and a boom that echoed from the nearby hills.

The Matriarch looked more closely at the group left behind, noting the odd mixture of species. “The Seer warned me that Blue Streak might join us, but she made no mention of such a large entourage.”

“We’ve all been involved in the time war,” Cinder explained. “Let me introduce them to you, and explain what part they have played so far…”

# # #

Path was settled on the large couch in the family room with Roseclaw on one side of him and Twilight on the other. While the alicorn was preoccupied with a book, the earth pony and the griffoness were primarily preoccupied with each other. The three of them looked up from what they were doing when Destined and Silk entered the room.

“Silk and I are calling it a night,” Destined told them.

“Goodnight,” Twilight said, echoed by Roseclaw.

“Sleep well,” Path said.

The two left, and a minute later Hype walked in. “Pif introduced me to her mini-network today, and I’m worn out from learning how it works. I’m going to bed now. Goodnight Dad and Mom. You too, Mama Roseclaw.”

The three wished her goodnight, and Hype left.

Half a minute later, Free came into the room, carrying a snack that he laid on the coffee table. “Anyone seen Hype? She’s been tickling the edges of the hive-mind, and I want to give her some advice before she goes to bed so that her dreams don’t carry over.”

“She was just here a moment ago,” Roseclaw replied. “She’s probably in her room by now.”

“Oops! Better catch her while I can. Back in a few minutes.” Free trotted out of the room.

Moments later, Blue and Cinder walked in.

“Where’s Papa Free going in such a hurry?” Blue asked Path.

“Trying to catch up with Hype before she retires for the night,” Path replied. “She’s tired and going to bed early.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long day. Cinder and I might do the same. Goodnight, Dad. Goodnight, Mama Roseclaw.” Blue pointedly ignored Twilight.

Twilight sighed. “I know that you felt strongly about this, Blue, but I had to do what I felt was right for the good of the family.”

Blue merely snorted and turned away.

Cinder said, “Give him a little time to get over this, Dad. We’ll work this out eventually.”

Twilight’s brow raised in surprise. “Since when did you start calling me Dad?”

Cinder was startled, and Blue gave her a sharp look. “Umm… just trying to make a joke to lighten the mood. Like how Hype keeps calling you Dad when you’re a mare.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Where are Era and Eon? You know how I like to tuck them in at night.”

“They… umm… they’ve been put to bed already. They were cranky and tired, so we put them down.”

“Right. I see.”

Twilight’s horn lit up with a spell, and she cast it on the two. Abruptly their forms changed to reveal Hype and Free in their natural changeling forms.

Free rolled his eyes and said, “You’re a terrible actress, Hype. I told you not to say anything.”

“I’ve never done this before!” Hype protested.

“Someone had better tell me what’s going on right now!” Twilight said warningly. “Where’s the real Blue?”

Free sighed as he reverted to his normal griffon form. “We were hoping that you wouldn’t find out until tomorrow at the soonest, but he’s gone.”

“Gone?! Gone where?!”

“Do you really need to ask, Twilight?” Path answered.

Twilight started getting up off the couch, her ears laid back and her mane bristling with anger. “I’m going to track him down and bring him back!”

“No you’re not!” Path barked out in his most authoritative voice.

Twilight froze, then slowly turned around to glare at Path. “What did you say?” she hissed.

Path glared back, unintimidated by the alicorn’s ire. “I said that you are going to drop this and let him go.”

“You have no right to order that! It was decided by royal decree that Blue was banned from pursuing that goal.”

“You had no right to bring Celestia and the others into this. This was a herd matter – a House Path matter. As head of this House, the decision was made to support Blue’s quest, but you arrogantly invoked royal privilege and overrode that decision.”

Twilight’s ears laid back and her wings flared. “How dare you! It was not arrogance! It was concern for our son, and for the good of Equestria!” she snarled.

Path folded his arms and returned her glare with a steady and resolute gaze. “Our son is an adult warrior – you cannot baby him! And don’t you think that the rest of us are concerned about Equestria’s fate too? You cannot just blithely override your family’s and your House’s decision.”

“But I did, and the royal decision was won by fair vote – 3 to 2 in my favor. While I’m not surprised that Shining Armor took Luna’s side, that still left Celestia and Cadance supporting me. That is how alicorn rule works – fair and reasoned. You are defying your rightful rulers’ decision!”

 

 

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