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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28. Chapter 17 - The Darkest Night

The pile of ponies, griffons, and changelings was bigger than ever, but Blue was quick to disentangle himself from the others.

“Where’s Cinder?!” Blue demanded.

Pif reached up to grab Blue’s shoulder and drag the worried pony’s attention to her. “Cinder said that she’s staying to protect your kids. Taking them with us would only have endangered them, and she would not leave them behind to go with you.”

Blue groaned in frustration. “But they might cease to exist in the changed History!”

Destined said reassuringly, “Once we fix whatever has been changed, they’ll be there waiting for you, Blue.”

“What in Tartarus took you so long?” The Doctor scowled at them, and even Derpy winced a little.

“They wouldn’t go without Blue Streak,” the grey pegasus explained.

“I almost lost them!”

“We couldn’t have done much without Blue to power the time-jump,” Destined retorted.

The Doctor grumbled but seemed to concede the point. “Well, you’re all here now…” He stopped when he got a good look at Blue’s changed appearance. He blinked a few times and said, “What…?”

Blue smirked at him. “Like the new looks?”

“Is there a reason why you resemble a species that hasn’t been seen in millennia?”

“Yes, there is. Is there a reason why we’re wasting time? I have a mate and children to get back to!”

The Doctor was unfazed by Blue’s glare. “Hmmm… Fascinating! Oh well, time for that later. Best get things under way. Derpy – can you… oh, you’re way ahead of me as usual, dear.”

Derpy smiled as she brought out her usual muffin treats. “I have your favorites. The hot cocoa will be ready soon too.”

“Hot cocoa?” echoed Forest.

“It’s a bit chilly outside,” the Doctor said. “Best fortify yourselves before you head out.”

“How cold? It’s only mid-autumn,” Lucida pointed out.

“You’re going to need a coat,” was all the Doctor replied.

While some of the team were not really into drinking the hot chocolate drink, nevertheless all took heed of the warning and fortified themselves. The Doctor would not let them proceed without being fully prepared for what was to come. He led them over to a closet and started pulling out heavy winter coats of various types and sizes. Pif assumed her ponyling form that was best suited to the expected conditions, but Watchful chose to stay in griffon form.

“Why do you have so many coats, Doctor?” Silk asked curiously.

“Oh, I’ve needed them all over the years. Might need them again in the future.”

Silk wondered why an earth pony would need a coat with wing-slits, but decided that perhaps he meant for his companions also.

Only half of the team had found a suitable coat when suddenly the workshop shuddered. A deep-toned bell started tolling from what seemed a great distance.

“What the…?” the Doctor looked around in surprise.

The workshop shook again, worse this time, and the Doctor galloped over to a bank of instruments. After throwing a few levers and mashing a few buttons, he gasped.

“No! It can’t be!”

The workshop quaked worse than ever, and several people lost their footing.

“What’s going on?!” Pif demanded.

“Something is forcing its way past my temporal shields! That’s not possible!”

As the Doctor worked frantically to stabilize the situation, the shaking reached a crescendo, then a tear seemed to open in mid-air, and something fell through. The tear immediately closed and the shuddering ceased. Everyone moved to get a closer look, but Lucida urged them to stay back, only to have her words catch in her throat as she recognized what lay there.

A blue-coated stallion with a red mane obscured by a torn fur cape lay there, badly burned and with one wing sheared off. His horn was glowing, but not from magic. It was badly cracked, and the heat radiating from it spoke of severe overload. The pain that it was causing its owner was starkly evident.

Destined gasped in shock. “That’s me! What’s going on?!”

The other Destined moaned in agony as he lifted his head. One eye was ruined, and the other streamed with tears of pain. “Ambush!” he gasped. “Detec-detected me… hit us… no warning. Aargh!” The pain seemed to be getting worse. “Blue st-stalled her… while I… urrrgg… I time-jumped.” He panted heavily for a few seconds. “Must use perception filt–”

Just then, his horn exploded, and the maimed alicorn seemed to shatter, but there was no debris. Instead each piece seemed to fade out of existence, leaving nothing behind.

Everyone was staring at the remaining unharmed alicorn. Destined looked at the cape he had put on and noted that it was identical to the damaged one that his other self had worn. He then shakily turned to the Doctor, his expression begging for answers.

The Doctor was already staring at Destined with a mixture of concern and curiosity. “What this future version of you did should have been impossible. The same shields that I have running to prevent you and your friends from being caught up in the History change should have prevented you from entering the way you did, and yet you still managed. The mana overload was too much for you though, and you were disassociated from reality.”

“That’s a fancy way of saying he died,” Pif said with a grimace.

The Doctor shook his head. “Worse than that, Epiphany – he ceased to exist in that timeline. In fact, he neverexisted.”

Destined felt sick at that thought. “You mean that I’m… I’m…?” He couldn’t complete that thought.

For once the Doctor gave a reassuring smile. “In that timeline only. The same thing that is keeping you safe in here will enable you to start an alternative timeline. Your alternate self’s sacrifice was not in vain. He brought a message back.”

“What was he talking about, Doctor?” Lucida asked.

“I believe he was going to say to use a perception filter spell. If your presence can be detected and traced, resulting in the ambush, then you must block the ability to do so.” The Doctor turned his attention back to Destined. “You do know how to cast one, don’t you? Or will I have to figure out something for you?” He looked about his workshop for inspiration.

“I know a low-level one suitable for surveillance purposes, but my other self said that his enemy had detected me. If they’re sensing alicorn power, I’m not sure if I can block that on short notice.”

“I know how to do it,” Forest spoke up.

All eyes turned to the young unicorn, and he shrugged.

“It ties in with my illusion talent,” he explained.

“Right!” the Time Stallion said. “You work it out with Destined Path while the rest of you finish preparing.”

“I think some of us are still in shock,” Lucida said.

“If any of you feel you’re not up to this, you can stay here until History is fixed,” the Doctor offered. “The team only really needs Blue, Destined, and a couple of support members.”

He looked around at all of them, but not one of them wanted to back out.

Citrine said proudly, “We won’t let Chrysalis scare us off! We’re House Path – we’ll buck her arse no matter what she comes up with!”

The Doctor frowned. “Don’t get cocky. You just saw the consequences of making a mistake. If it wasn’t so important, I would never let you take on this task.” He finished finding coats for the remaining members and then ushered them to the front door. “I hope you like winter, because you’re really going to need those coats. Make sure you cast that perception filter as soon as you step away from the workshop.”

Lucida said, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to cast it now before we go out?”

The Doctor gave her an apologetic half-smile. “It would, except the same thing that is protecting us from the effects of the History change will also disrupt the spell as you pass through it. I’m afraid technology and magic don’t mix too well.”

“Maybe you should visit House Path sometime and see what we’re doing with magitek,” Pif suggested.

“Perhaps I should,” the Doctor said with a chuckle. “Sometime when I have time on my hooves.” He opened the door, and a chill wind blew in. “Good luck, chaps, and be careful out there.”

Lucida led the way, and almost immediately plowed into a deep snow drift. Despite the warm coat, the wind cut through her like a knife made of ice, but she pushed on through to allow the others to follow. When everyone was out, the door closed and darkness enshrouded them, with the only illumination coming from the windows of the workshop. Vague shadows of buildings around them were not enough to place where they were. Pif, Destined, and Forest all lit up their horns to provide some more light, and they could see that the deep snowdrifts barely touched the Doctor’s workshop. About a meter from the walls, the falling snow lost its impetus and most failed to get any further.

Lucida pointed with a talon. “Get beyond that line of snow – that’s probably where the Doctor’s shield ends. Cast the perception filter now, Destined!”

As soon as the spell was cast, Lucida heaved a sigh of relief. She had no idea how quickly they would be detected or how swift would be the response, but now they stood a far greater chance of surviving. The image of the other Destined still haunted her.

“Okay – stick together and let’s find out where we are.” Lucida forged forth into the gloom with Destined at her side to provide light to see where they were going.

The limited illumination was barely enough to make out the buildings around them. Without exception, the windows were unlit, and the structures showed evidence of long neglect. It quickly became clear that ponies had abandoned this place long ago, and Lucida considered taking shelter from the bitterly cold weather in one of the empty houses. Despite only having just started their mission, she felt that they were not going to get far under these conditions. Her fur coat was barely making a difference, and she could only wonder at how some of the others were coping.

“Look for a good place to take shelter,” she said to the others. “We can wait until daytime to decide where to go from here–”

She was interrupted by a boom and a brief flash of magical light overhead, and all eyes turned to their source. The darkness was relieved only by a lambent mane and tail that silhouetted a midnight-black pony form with both wings and horn. Fear instantly gripped them as they recognized who had just arrived.

“Nightmare Moon!” gasped Blue.

“Shut up!” Pif hissed urgently.

“Don’t move!” Forest whispered loudly as he surged to the front of the group. His horn flared up, and he appeared braced for a fight, but he did nothing else.

“What are you doing?” Lucida asked quietly but urgently. “Nightmare Moon will see us!”

“No, she won’t, if you’ll all just shut up!” Forest replied in the same tone, never taking his eyes off their dread foe.

Lucida did not know why she trusted that assertion, but she complied, holding one talon up to her beak to shush the others. They remained frozen in place, silently watching the evil alicorn.

Nightmare Moon flew circles in the air above them, apparently searching for them but not seeing them. She eventually landed and started walking through the deserted town, seemingly unaffected by the freezing conditions. She peered intently into the buildings as she passed by, but continued on when she found nothing of interest. She came closer and closer to the group, and Lucida realized that the dark goddess was in danger of running right into them. Still Forest maintained whatever he was doing, and the hippogriff forced herself to remain calm.

 

 

Nightmare Moon, still looking around, passed right by Forest and came within half a meter of Lucida, and the alicorn’s slit eyes seem to peer right through her. Nothing happened though, and the alicorn continued on past the group. Only Forest moved his head to continue focusing on the Nightmare. Eventually, with a growl of anger and frustration, Nightmare surged up into the air and bellowed, “DISCORD! IF THIS IS ANOTHER OF THY PRANKS, I WILL RIP OFF THY LIMBS AND BEAT THEE TO DEATH WITH THEM!” Her horn lit up, and bolts of magic flew out, destroying several of the decaying buildings. Rubble from one that came too close showered down on the group. Apparently satisfied with venting her anger, Nightmare Moon teleported away.

Forest’s magic faded, and he swayed on his hooves from exhaustion. Lucida braced him in silence as the group silently contemplated the close shave that they just had.

Eventually Citrine spoke up. “I think I peed myself a little….” She sagged against Pif’s side.

“Now we know why future Destined was so badly hurt,” Blue said. “It wasn’t Chrysalis that he encountered. He was actually saying that I was keeping Nightmare Moon busy while he went back in time, but despite my power boost, I’m not able to defeat an alicorn-level monster like her yet. Remember she would have defeated Celestia if it weren’t for the Elements of Harmony.”

“I agree,” Lucida replied. “We need to take shelter and re-assess the situation. Let’s go!”

Lucida urged the others to push on through the snow, heading towards one of the shadowy buildings. It seemed larger than most, and when they got close enough, they finally could see enough details to recognize it.

“That’s the Town Hall! We’re in Ponyville!” Destined exclaimed.

The building showed signs of severe decay just like all the others, but it was still standing against the elements. They forced open the doors and entered, finally getting out of the freezing wind. With the doors closed, it was still like standing inside of an icebox, and the alicorn cast a warming spell over them all. It took a while though before the bone-deep chill was dispelled.

As her shivers finally stopped, Lucida said, “If nothing else, we already know what was changed this time around. Now all we have to do is figure out how and when.”

“There seems to be only a few options,” Destined said. “The likeliest is that Mom and her friends failed to stop Nightmare Moon when she returned. The only other is that Luna succumbed to the Nightmare again, but I just can’t see that happening even with Chrysalis’ interference.”

Lucida nodded. “I agree, but we still need more intel. Pif – that’s your cue. Any chance of finding out anything?”

“Give me a moment while I try to connect.” Pif then reached out with her mind for a link. ‘Zark! Are you there?

The response was immediate, although Pif could sense the surprise. ‘Your Majesty – you live?!

I do, and I told you to call me Pif.

It definitely is you. After the unexpected victory of Nightmare Moon, we realized that History had been changed once more, and we could not be sure of your welfare. The fact that we remembered you gave us hope, but it has been so many years since then.

We start our quests in our time, jump into the altered timeline, and only then go back to the past to fix things. But to do that, we need information. We are currently in Ponyville, but there isn’t anybody here.

All the ponies who survived the eternal winter of Nightmare Moon’s endless night have moved into the hives.

Pif blinked in surprise. ‘The hives? All of them?

Yes. In order to survive, the hives allied themselves with ponykind. We are with Twilight Sparkle at the Green Hive.

Can we join you there?

How would you survive the journey from Ponyville to here? The cold cannot be endured for long.

We will teleport there. Destined has been to the Green Hive before, so he will know where to go.

So far? Do not attempt to teleport within the hive, Pif. It has changed radically since becoming a refuge for ponies, and you might arrive somewhere dangerous.

Has the location of the main entrance changed?

No, it hasn’t. We can meet you there.

We’ll be there soon.

Very well. It’s good to have you back, my Queen.

Thanks!’ Pif opened her eyes to look at the others. “Everyone has taken refuge in the hives. Zark is at the Green Hive with Mama Twilight. Des – we need you to teleport us there, but to the entrance, not inside. Apparently changes have been made that might make it dangerous to try that.”

Destined looked at Lucida enquiringly. “Should we?”

Lucida nodded. “Mama Twilight would probably be our best source of information, so if she’s there, we need to be also. Are you prepared to teleport us there?”

“If Blue is up to supplying the extra power, then I’m ready,” Destined replied.

“I’m good,” Blue said, placing a hoof on Destined’s back.

“Pull your coats on tight – it’s gonna get cold again.” Destined lit up his horn with the teleport spell, drawing mana from Blue to power it for the extra distance, and the nine adventurers vanished.

It was just as bitterly cold as last time when they materialized at the entrance to the Green Hive, but unlike previously, they left a cold town hall instead of a warm workshop, so it didn’t hit them quite so hard on this occasion. Also, this time they had some light. Torches burned to illuminate the forecourt in front of the massive doors that sealed off the hive from the outside. A small portal was built into one of the doors for those inside to observe whatever was happening outside, but it was closed at this time.

“What happens now?” Glenn asked.

“We wait,” Pif replied.

They only had to wait for a couple of minutes, but in that bitterly cold environment, that seemed to take forever before the portal opened and someone peered at them briefly before it closed again. Moments later, the sound of bolts being withdrawn was heard, and one door opened. A Green Changeling guard gestured to them, urging them inside, and they hurriedly complied. The door was promptly closed once more and secured, but they only had eyes for the welcoming party.

Queen Dianthia stood at the forefront, but a mere half-step behind and to her right was Twilight Sparkle who was still a unicorn in this timeline. To the Queen’s left was Zark in his unicorn guise but with the odd addition of a pair of gauzy changeling wings. Dianthia regarded them with suspicion, Twilight was curious, but Zark was smiling broadly. Without invitation, he stepped forward to meet Pif and gave her a welcoming hug.

Dianthia waited briefly before saying, “Your friends, I take it, Zark?”

Zark replied, “More than that, Your Majesty – this is my Queen – Epiphany of the Chrome Hive, and some of her family.”

“There is no Chrome Hive,” Dianthia said emphatically. She peered closely at Pif. “However, I admit that I cannot place your allegiance.”

“There isn’t a Chrome Hive in this timeline,” Pif said as she shifted to her natural form, “but as you can tell from my carapace, I am not of any hive that you know of.”

Twilight spoke up. “It’s true, Your Majesty. Agent Zark told me of many things when he and his associates came to me with a rescue plan. Among other things, he told me that he believed that one day his Queen would come to free us from the tyranny of Nightmare Moon.”

Dianthia looked at Twilight with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. “And you chose not to tell me? Magister Sparkle, I believe you need to explain yourself.”

“Time War, Queen Dianthia. Our visitors are not only warrior-scholars from another time, but some are even family.” She stepped up to Destined and looked at him with a touch of expectation and wonder. “Isn’t that right?”

Destined smiled fondly at her. “Completely right, Mom.”

Dianthia was startled. “You have an alicorn son? How can this be?”

Twilight turned back to the changeling queen. “History has been changed. Zark explained this to me soon after Nightmare Moon returned. He and his associates had been waiting for the return of their queen, but watching for signs of interference with History. According to them, I, along with five friends, was to have discovered the Elements of Harmony and defeat Nightmare Moon. They told me of a previous attempt to change History that resulted in their team being created and charged with protecting Equestria to the best of their ability. It was they who revealed the existence of the changeling hives which led to our alliance and survival. But if History had run its course without interference, that alicorn stallion would have been my son.”

Lucida spoke up. “Destined Path is the son of Twilight Sparkle and an earth pony named Long Path. He was also my and Epiphany’s father, and he also adopted Blue Streak.”

“But why is this one an alicorn?” Dianthia asked, pointing towards Destined.

“Because his mother had ascended to alicornhood beforehand,” Lucida replied.

Dianthia looked at Twilight who shrugged. “Zark told me this in the hope that I would find a way to ascend by myself. Obviously, I failed.”

“Your Majesty,” Lucida said, “we would be happy to fill in as much as you wish to know, but we have a mission to complete. If we can trace the source of the change to History, all this will become moot as the timeline will be restored, and Nightmare Moon would not reign over Equus.”

Queen Dianthia frowned but nodded. “Very well. Come with me into the hive and we can exchange knowledge in greater comfort than this frigid hallway.” She turned and walked away without waiting for acknowledgement.

Everyone fell in behind the changeling queen, with Lucida placing herself next to Twilight.

“Dianthia called you ‘Magister’ – what did she mean by that?”

“It’s the title of the most powerful unicorn in charge of the hive’s non-changeling inhabitants. While Dianthia is the ultimate authority here, we share the responsibility of maintaining the hive. Without one-hundred percent cooperation between us, neither changelings nor ponies could survive, so a clear command structure is needed. I am the Magister of the Green Hive, Starlight Glimmer is the Magister of the Red Hive, Mi Amore Cadenza is the Magister of the Yellow Hive, and so forth.”

“How do you survive down here? Everything above-ground is dead.”

“We would be dead also without these refuges. Without Zark warning and advising us, we would never have survived. Without the sun, all the plants died, and without plants, soon all the animals started dying also. We needed a new source of heat and light, and a safe place to live. The changelings needed living ponies to harvest love and other positive emotional energy, so they took us in and expanded their hives to accommodate our needs. You’re about to see just how we have managed to survive down here for so many years.”

The hallway had been sloping steadily downwards, but after passing through another set of doors, it suddenly opened up into a huge cavern buttressed with the ubiquitous changeling resin. It was filled with the light and warmth that the team had been sorely missing. It wasn’t the eerie luminescence of a typical hive either, but the same white light of the sun. The visitors were dazzled by it for a few moments before their eyes adjusted, and they were able to take in the scenery.

A tiny sun hung at the apex of the cavern, flooding it with as much warmth and light as a perfect Equestrian day. Beneath its life-giving refulgence, high-density fields of green grew, tended by earth ponies and changeling drones. Pegasi were pushing small clouds into place to gently water crops, while others could be seen hovering near tunnels, flapping their wings but going nowhere.

Dianthia had paused to allow the team to take it all in. She had a small, regal smile of pride on her face as the visitors stared in awe. Eventually Lucida leaned over to Twilight and asked, “Why are those pegasi just hovering there?”

“Unlike changelings, ponies need a lot more fresh air. The plants generate oxygen and those tubes ventilate the entire hive. Those pegasi are on fan duty. I expected your first question to be about the artificial sun though.”

“I suspect that it’s a product of unicorn magic. It must take a lot of power to sustain it.”

“You’re correct both times. When we first moved into the hives, there was very little heat and light, food was in limited supply, and it was very crowded. That situation would not have been sustainable for long. Many ponies were voluntarily put into suspended animation in changeling pods until the conditions improved. I consulted with all the most powerful unicorn mages to devise the solar gem spell. At the heart of that sun is a specially constructed and enchanted crystal that, when magic is funneled into it by unicorns, produces heat and light of the optimum amount. The first ones were much smaller, but they enabled us to be self-sustaining. As our needs grew, so did this cavern and the solar gem. All the inhabitants of the Green Hive work together to our mutual benefit.”

“That must be a lot of work to sustain though.”

Twilight nodded. “If it wasn’t for the changelings, we would not have managed. While we ponies have had to focus our magical abilities on our specialties, the changelings have done all the other jobs. Sadly this means that some exotic skills are being lost, and we have little time to devote to the arts. That has been slowly changing for the better over the years, but we are still decades from being as comfortable as we used to be before the coming of Nightmare Moon.”

“And what of the changelings?” Pif asked. “How do they feel about this arrangement?”

Dianthia chose to answer that. “Our subjects have never been so well fed and happy. This symbiotic relationship with ponies has enabled us to gather positive emotions without difficulty, and the surplus has let us put more effort into expanding the hive. Our kingdom has grown great under this adversity.”

Twilight’s ears drooped a little. “It’s a pity that so many ponies died before they could be evacuated to a hive, not to mention the griffons and other species who had no chance whatsoever.” She looked at Glenn. “You’re the first griffon that I’ve seen in ages. The foals who have been born here have never seen one, or a minotaur, or any other non-pony.”

“Not even Zecora?” Destined asked.

“Sorry – who?” Twilight queried with a small frown.

“A zebra mare who lived in the Everfree Forest, and a friend of yours – at least in our timeline.”

“I never got to meet a zebra. I can only guess that she was one of the victims too.”

“I wonder if the Griffonians ever allied with the Western Hive?” Glenn said.

“Is that where you’re from?”

Glenn shook his head. “No, I’m from Griffonstone, and I’m quite aware that there were no hives near my kingdom.”

Pif looked thoughtful. She turned to Zark and quietly asked, “What happened to Path and Free? If Twilight hasn’t seen a griffon, that implies that at least Free didn’t make it here. Are they in another hive?”

Zark smiled reassuringly. “Surely you don’t think that we would be remiss in our duty of care? Both are here with us, although you might not recognize her.”

Her?

“Queen Dianthia was reluctant to admit a changeling who wasn’t a Green to this hive as a permanent resident. It’s only because of our major contribution to the refuge projects that my comrades and I were granted an exemption. We informed Dianthia that Free was an abandoned mutant changeling under our protection, and mated to Long Path. Free Agent became Free Spirit, a unicorn mare, to support that claim. She was admitted under those conditions only.”

Pif sent over her link, ‘Dianthia is not aware that Free is a Queen?

No, and neither is Free still.

Let’s keep it that way.

Of course.

And her relationship with Path?

Never stronger than it is now.

Pif chuckled. ‘It’s a good thing she became a unicorn and not an earth pony then. It might have been suspicious if she got pregnant to him.

Zark nodded gravely. ‘Indeed.

A bell interrupted further conversation, and there was a noticeable increase in the number of pegasi in the air, and movement of ponies on the ground.

“What was that?” Lucida asked.

“Shift change,” Twilight answered. It’s hard work maintaining everything that needs to be done to survive down here. Shifts are kept to a minimum in order to not exhaust anypony.”

As they watched, several earth ponies emerged from the fields and started heading for a tunnel to other parts of the hive, even as other earth ponies emerged to take their place. One grey-coated stallion stopped and appeared to be waiting for someone, and it was not long before a brown unicorn mare with a red mane and tail joined him. They nuzzled affectionately before following the others.

“Was… was that Free Spirit with Dad?” Pif asked.

Zark replied, “Yes, it was. As you saw, they are a happy couple. Long Path adapted well to the fact that his soul mate was a changeling, and Free Spirit loved him enough to become his wife.”

Destined said, “We’ve seen many versions of our parents during these History changes, but this one is particularly beautiful. It’s a pity that it took a major disaster for it to happen.”

Lucida nodded. “I agree, but we need to get back to our task.”

Dianthia said, “As this would seem to be the Magister’s purview, I will leave you in her hooves. I have a hive to run. I bid you farewell.”

Dianthia stalked off regally, her guards in attendance.

Pif smirked. “Well, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. She’s still as imperious as ever.” She turned to Twilight. “I’m curious about one thing – with all this magic in use, how do you avoid being detected by Nightmare Moon?”

“The Magister of each hive is responsible for the maintenance of a massive perception-blocking spell. Thankfully, Luna did not know the location of the hives before she became Nightmare Moon, so our locations remain undiscovered.”

“She certainly detected us quickly enough when we arrived,” Blue said.

Twilight was startled. “And you survived? How? We barely escaped her back when she first returned to Equestria, and she’s grown considerably in power since then.”

“I cast a perception filter spell as soon as possible, but even the short period without it was long enough for Nightmare Moon to trace us. Fortunately we had backup.” Blue pushed Forest forward.

“Eep!” Forest said as all eyes were laid upon him.

“What exactly did you do?” Twilight asked. “It could be useful to us.”

“Umm… it has to do with my special talent.”

“But you didn’t cast an illusion,” Pif pointed out.

“Not that – I’ve always been able to do illusions. I only discovered my special talent after… the incident that almost got me and my parents killed.” Forest blushed in shame. “It taught me the value of truth, and also how people can be blind to it. I made Nightmare Moon blind to the truth of our presence.”

Twilight blinked in surprise. “That… is an exceptionally powerful talent.”

Forest nodded. “I know. I can see through any illusion because I can perceive the truth behind it, but equally I have yet to find someone who could break through mine. I suppose an alicorn might if they knew exactly what to look for.”

“Would you mind if I test this talent of yours?”

Lucida interrupted. “Sorry, Twilight, but we need to get on with our mission. We need to figure out what was changed so that we can go back and prevent it. All this will become irrelevant once History has been fixed.”

Pif said, “Actually I’d like to get as much information on these hive set-ups as possible before we go. This knowledge could make useful protocols for similar emergencies.”

“I can share whatever you need to know that your changeling team doesn’t know already,” Twilight offered. “As a Queen, you can handle all that information, can’t you?”

“I can. Sorry to interrupt, Lucy.”

Lucida nodded. “As I was saying, we need to go over the events at the time of Nightmare Moon’s return. As you were instrumental in her defeat, can you tell us what you did that night and we will try to spot the changes.”

“It’s been a while, but I believe I can recall what happened. I first became aware of Nightmare Moon along with everyone else gathered for the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville. She made an appearance in place of Princess Celestia, and then departed. I galloped back to the Library Tree to try to find out more about the Elements of Harmony which were used originally to banish Nightmare Moon. I found out that they were last used in the Castle of the Two Sisters, and several of the local ponies accompanied me to the Everfree Forest which is where the castle is located.”

Lucida said, “So far that sounds exactly how you described it to us. Those five ponies who accompanied you were the future Element Bearers.”

Twilight frowned. “Five? I only recall four.”

“Are you sure? It’s been a while and you might not be remembering correctly. There was Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie.”

Twilight gave it some thought. “Pinkie Pie found the book on the Elements, so she was there. Applejack stopped me from falling off a cliff until Fluttershy was in position to catch me. Rarity helped us get past a distressed sea serpent… I don’t recall Rainbow Dash at all. Wait – she was the weather mare, right?”

“That’s correct,” Lucida confirmed.

“She wasn’t with us when we went to the forest.”

Lucida looked at the others, and they nodded. She looked back to Twilight. “It seems we might have found the change already. Rainbow Dash was a critical member of your group as she represented the Element of Loyalty. Without her, you could not have recovered the Elements and defeated Nightmare Moon.”

“You’re right. I tried to confront her and she smashed them. I realized too late that the Elements needed avatars to bear them, but we were one short. That one had to be Rainbow Dash.”

“Okay, we need to find out exactly how and when Rainbow was taken out. Since you got to know her when you were checking on the preparations for the celebration, that gives us an earliest time. Do you recall seeing her since then?”

Twilight thought hard but shook her head. “I might have seen her without really noticing her.”

Lucida said, “Don’t worry about it – we can watch from the moment you last saw her.”

“I have only one question that Epiphany’s changeling team would not answer. Who is changing the past?”

“It does not matter if you know now. We face a dual foe. It might not surprise you that the Nightmare is trying again.”

“Considering that she succeeded in banishing Princess Celestia and made night last forever, I find that easy to believe. Who’s the other?”

“Chrysalis, the insane Queen of the Blue Changelings.”

Twilight looked over to Pif’s changeling team. “So that’s the true reason why they could not go back to their hive.”

Pif said, “They belong to my hive now, but yeah, you’re basically right. Did ponies ever try to use her hive as a refuge?”

“We never got word back from the ponies who tried to contact her.”

Zark spoke up. “We advised that they not try, but the circumstances resulted in desperate decisions.”

“Ironically, Chrysalis might have killed off her hive by not cooperating like all the others did,” Pif said. “Without a source of love to feed upon, they would have starved long ago.”

“That’s something that I don’t get,” Citrine said. “How does this History-change benefit the bug bitch?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow at Citrine’s insult, and Pif said, “Forgive her – she lost her family to Chrysalis’ invasion of the Crystal City.”

“I understand, but what Crystal City are you talking about?”

Pif looked at Lucida. “Do you think it returned without anypony ever knowing?”

Lucida shrugged. “We might never know without an investigation that we can’t afford right now. But to answer Citrine’s question, I think we’re seeing the Nightmare’s takeover of Chrysalis near completion. Just as the Nightmare used Luna’s envy, frustration, and hate to corrupt her until it could take over in the final merge as Nightmare Moon, Chrysalis is being consumed also. The Nightmare doesn’t care about anything except death and destruction, and its host’s wishes only matter until such time as it can take complete control. We might be facing Nightmare Chrysalis from now on. Either that, or the Queen is too far gone into madness to care anymore.”

Destined said, “Whatever the case, we probably need to be even more careful from now on. We also need to head back in time and get started on fixing this situation.”

“What will happen to us when you do?” Twilight asked.

“All this…” Destined swept a forehoof to indicate the hive broadly, “will become an unrealized probability. You and all the ponies here will continue their lives above-ground as they have done for centuries, and you personally, will go on to greater things – like giving birth to me,” he added with a grin.

Twilight grimaced. “I can’t help feeling that all this effort will be wasted.”

Pif stepped up and nuzzled Twilight. “Mama – you saved thousands of lives; how can that ever be a waste? And by being here to answer our questions, you will save all the lives lost to Nightmare Moon. That’s something to be proud of, not regret.”

Twilight gave her a small smile. “I suppose you’re right. We had better start transferring that knowledge that you want to take back. It will take a while, though, so can I offer a meal to the rest of you while you wait?”

The team accepted, and a drone led them to the communal dining hall, leaving Pif with Twilight. The unicorn led Pif and her cadre to her office where they settled down for the information transfer.

# # #

The time-team gathered again, with only Twilight there to see them off. Destined, Pif, Blue, and Lucida all gave her a farewell hug.

“See you in the alternate future,” she said cheerfully as she stepped back from the group.

“Love you, Mom,” Destined said before drawing on Blue’s power to teleport back to Ponyville. The cold hit them like a sledgehammer, but they did not even have time to start shivering as Destined triggered the vortex generator, and they fell through time once again.

Destined managed to displace their exit from the time-stream sufficiently that they did not cause a hullabaloo by arriving in the midst of the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration in the Town Hall. Falling in the midst of a stack of trash cans in an alley was not a huge improvement, but at least their arrival seemed to go unnoticed despite the clatter.

“Seriously, Des?” Pif complained from the bottom of the pile.

“Sorry, Pif. I misremembered exactly where things were,” Destined said apologetically. “Things might have changed a bit since this year.”

They sorted themselves out and, with disguises firmly in place, they ventured forth. They started heading for a nearby park to watch for the imminent arrival of Twilight Sparkle who was due to come from Canterlot that morning. They had not quite reached it yet when Watchful pointed up to the sky.

“I see Twilight,” she announced.

The rest quickly spotted what Watchful was pointing at as a sky chariot pulled by two white Royal Guard pegasi rapidly approached. They stepped well aside to ensure that they did not get involved as the chariot came down for a landing in the middle of the town. Twilight jumped out of the chariot, thanked the drivers, and then went looking for the library.

Lucida said, “Des and Watchful – follow Mama Twilight. Pif and Forest – watch out for changelings, bearing in mind that there’s at least one living here peacefully already. Everyone else – continue to the park and just watch for anything unusual. If things proceed properly, Twilight will be back here around midday to meet up with Rainbow Dash. Then we’ll track her every move from there.”

Waiting for their team-members to return was easy but boring. At least they did not attract undue attention due to the influx of visitors who had come to Ponyville for the celebration. Twilight turned up on time as expected, and they watched the antics that happened between her and Rainbow Dash. Citrine was killing herself laughing over the bizarre mane-do that the pegasus inadvertently gave the unicorn. Blue fervently wished that he had a camera with him at that time.

As soon as Twilight parted company with Rainbow Dash, the group got serious again. Lucida sent out the two pairs once more to watch the pegasus closely. She also took Glenn with her to watch from a distance with their keen griffon eyesight. If anything happened, she was determined that they would not miss it.

Rainbow Dash spent some time practicing her stunt flying, and staying out of her way while simultaneously keeping close watch proved to be quite a challenge, especially for Destined who was carrying Forest. Just because the unicorn could not fly did not mean that Des was going to leave behind a valuable talent! As it turned out, nothing happened at all during her practice session, and she headed off to her cloudiminium home to shower and rest before the Summer Sun Celebrations started in earnest.

The flyers settled down on a nearby cloud to keep watch over Rainbow’s home. Fortunately it was anchored outside of the town, and some clouds were still available out there after the pegasus had cleared them all above Ponyville. They waited for about half an hour before she appeared again, heading back to town. They got up to follow, but they were abruptly brought to a halt by a shout from Forest Breeze.

“Wait! That isn’t Rainbow Dash!”

Lucida turned to peer intently at Forest. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

Lucida made a swift decision. “Watchful and Glenn – follow that fake. The rest, follow me. We’re making a house call.”

The griffon prince and the Red Changeling hastened to follow the ersatz Rainbow Dash. The rest of them flew up to the cloud house. Not bothering with the front door, they started peering in the windows, looking for evidence of foul play.

“Found her!” Destined called to the others.

The problem with homes made out of clouds was that they had absolutely terrible security. Forcing their way in was trivial, and soon they were all standing beside Rainbow’s bed, looking at the colorful pegasus. She was just lying on the bed on her back, staring unseeing at the ceiling, drool dribbling from the corner of her mouth. Pif reached out to touch Rainbow’s brow, then she shook her head.

“Rainbow Dash has been utterly drained of emotional energy. It’s so bad that she might die. One thing’s for sure though, she’ll not be in any condition to go with the others to the Castle of the Two Sisters and get her Element.”

Lucida sighed. “Looks like the agent was just waiting here for Rainbow to come home. Then after surprising her, the agent drained her and took her place so that she would not be missed. Simple and effective.”

“But at least simple to fix also,” Pif pointed out. “Way out here, nopony is going to see us deal with the agent. No elaborate scheme needed. No History to affect.”

“True. Let’s go do our job. Seeing Rainbow like this is depressing me.”

The team headed back to town. Along the way, Lucida used her comm to call the others to rendezvous with them. Watchful reported that the fake Rainbow Dash had joined the party that Pinkie Pie was throwing for Twilight. There was no point in doing anything about the agent now though.

Lucida asked, “Do you think you can manage a short hop back a few hours, Blue?”

“No sweat, Lucy. Since my training, I have a lot more in reserve.”

“Great! Des – send us back to midday. We know where Rainbow will be for a few hours, so we’ll have plenty of time to go to her home and spring a nasty surprise on the agent.”

# # #

Lucida, Pif, and Blue approached Rainbow Dash’s home from one side, while Destined, Silk, Glenn, and Watchful approached from the other. Citrine had been annoyed because she was going to be left out of the action along with Forest, but even she had to concede that she would be more of a hindrance than a help without wings.

“When we get back, first thing I’m gonna do is get Techbird make me some magitek wings like Blue’s,” she had said sulkily.

The team cautiously entered the cloud house from two sides, making sure that anyone inside could not slip past them. However, they found the place to be empty.

“Well, that’s obliging of the agent,” Pif said. “We can set up an ambush for him at our leisure.”

“Agreed. Take up positions at the windows to cover the full sphere of approach,” Lucida instructed. “As soon as you spot anyone at all approaching, call the others and we will converge on his entry point. Destined – catch him in a force bubble like you did to the one in Griffonia. Everyone else – stay on standby in case this agent has any new surprises.”

They only had to wait about a quarter hour before Glenn spotted a green pegasus heading toward the cloudiminium. As soon as it was determined where the pegasus was headed, they converged on that point as planned. When the pegasus forced entry like they had, they were certain that they had their quarry. Catching the intruder was simple and without fuss, and a magical blast from Pif stripped the changeling of its disguise and left it stunned.

“Think this one will blow up too?” Blue asked.

“I’m not going to let it get conscious enough to trigger a self-destruct spell even if it does,” Pif replied. “Let me link to him and–”

The changeling blew up.

BUCK IT!” screamed the frustrated Chrome Changeling.

“What happened, Pif?” Lucida asked.

“Best that I can tell – an anti-intrusion trigger. The moment that I tried to link with his mind, it set off the self-destruct spell without any conscious effort on his part.”

“Well, there goes any hope of getting further intel from the agents,” Destined lamented.

“What now, Lucy?” Blue asked.

“We go on watch duty again. Des – fetch Forest and park yourself on a cloud like before. You, Glenn, Watchful, and myself will keep watch on the house. I’m not assuming that there’s only one agent. We’re going to make sure that Rainbow Dash comes and goes without incident, and we’ll continue to watch everypony until Nightmare Moon is defeated.”

As it turned out, no further attempt to get to Rainbow Dash was made, and she left the cloud house and joined the pre-event party without incident. Watchful and Pif also joined the party in disguise to keep a close eye on the six future Element Bearers. Citrine and Forest attended too, not having to worry about disguises, while the rest watched from concealment. The worst thing that happened was boredom on the part of the outside watchers, and they were relieved when everyone started heading for the Town Hall. Destined cast an illusion upon Silk to make him look like a pegasus, and as usual he hid his own wings so that they could cram inside with all the other ponies. As no griffons or hippogriffs were supposed to have been present that night, Lucida stayed outside with Glenn, as well as Blue. She wanted Destined to conserve his magic, so instead of sustaining three difficult illusions, they settled for a ‘Don’t-Notice-Me’ spell that let them watch through a window without being bothered.

On cue, Celestia failed to turn up, and Nightmare Moon made her appearance instead.

“Am I imagining things, or does Nightmare Moon look less powerful than when we met her in the future?” Glenn asked Lucida.

“Don’t forget that she had over two decades to grow in power. That’s why she was such a huge threat to us then, although she’s plenty dangerous right now.”

After the Nightmare left the Town Hall, they spotted Rainbow Dash trying to follow, but she failed. She did spot Twilight running off toward the library though, and followed her with suspicion. Four other ponies followed Rainbow Dash, but they were completely unaware that they too were being followed. Again the time-team watched until the six ponies departed for the Everfree Forest, and they followed once more. Silk was given the lead as he had by far the best night vision, enabling the rest to stay further back and out of sight. Lucida realized that there were too many of them, increasing the risk that they might be noticed, so she ordered Blue, Citrine, Glenn, Destined, and Watchful to go ahead and meet them at the castle. Unlike the Mane Six, Blue and Destined were very familiar with the route through the forest and its hazards, and had no trouble circumventing problems. Pif stayed and assumed a thestral form to take advantage of the night vision, and Lucida’s wasn’t bad either. She also kept Forest with her, counting on the young unicorn’s extra perceptive abilities.

It took an effort of will on Lucida’s part to not to help out the six future Bearers whenever they encountered one of Nightmare Moon’s efforts to discourage them, but it was intriguing to actually witness events that they had only heard about from Twilight. It quickly became clear how her herd-mother had discovered her friend’s natures so that she would later deduce that they were avatars of the Elements. Eventually they came to the last challenge, and they witnessed Rainbow Dash prove her loyalty by rejecting the offer by the Shadowbolts. As Rainbow flew off to finish her task, three Nightmarish versions of the Wonderbolts faded into a dark mist, but a fourth followed Rainbow into the mist obscuring the bridge.

Lucida was startled when Forest leaped out of concealment and fired a bolt of magic from his horn. There was a cry of pain, the sound of wildly fluttering wings descending into the ravine, and then a meaty splat. Forest scrambled back into concealment just before the Mane Six emerged from the mist as they crossed the bridge, led by the loyal pegasus.

“What was that noise?” Fluttershy asked nervously.

“After all the strange things we’ve been through already, darling, does it really matter?” replied Rarity.

As the six ponies headed into the ruined castle, Lucida took the opportunity to query Forest. “What did you do?”

“That mist was magical, so I was able to see the truth that it was concealing. That Shadowbolt was a changeling and he was about to attack them, so I shot him down. That wouldn’t have killed him, but…” Forest gave her an unsure grin. “I think his fall might have.”

“Well done,” Lucida reassured him. “We had better keep following though. Silk – check out the agent and make sure he’s no longer a threat, then rejoin us again.”

Silk nodded and flew off.

“That’s two agents already; do you think that there might be more?” Pif asked.

“Actually I’m pretty certain there will be,” Lucida replied. “Just keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to act like Forest did if you have a safe opportunity. At worst, we can come back and try again.”

They headed toward the castle, but had to hastily get back into concealment as five of the ponies they had been following emerged from the ruins. They did not seem to be doing anything in particular except waiting, which is all that the watchers could do too. Then suddenly there was a cry of shock from the castle in what they recognized as Twilight’s voice, and the five rushed back inside.

Pif was about to dash forward when Lucida restrained her. “Wait! I remember this part now. Twilight was just surprised by Nightmare Moon as she carried off the Element Stones. They’re now in the Great Hall where the final confrontation occurs. The others should be waiting for us there.”

Lucida led them to that part of the castle. She spotted a signal from near one of the windows, and saw the rest of the team gathered there, along with a bubble of magic. They quickly joined up with the five, and they got a good look at what was in the bubble. A changeling agent glared balefully at them, helpless to do anything.

Pif whispered, “Well, this seems a bit anti-climactic. No desperate last-second struggle to defeat the enemy.”

Destined grinned. “Sorry to disappoint you, Sis. We checked out the ruins and found this one lurking in wait. He might be one of Chrysalis’ best drones, but even he is helpless inside one of my force shields. Uncle Shining Armor taught me well.”

“Hush, you two!” Lucida hissed. “Who knows if there’s a fourth? Watch and listen!”

They spread out to cover a few windows to carefully watch the events unfolding. Nightmare Moon had just smashed the Element Stones and was gloating, but Twilight suddenly rallied.

“You think you can destroy the Elements of Harmony just like that? Well, you’re wrong, because the spirits of the Element of Harmony are right here!” Twilight declared as her five friends joined back up with her.

They all watched in awe as Twilight expounded the virtues of her friends and re-created the sixth Element. A burst of rainbow Harmony came from them and enfolded their enemy.

“Noooooooooo!” screamed Nightmare Moon.

There was an explosion of power, and the six Element Bearers were left stunned on the floor. They picked themselves up, excited with their success, and checking out the necklaces and crown containing the Elements. Then they and the covert watchers were nearly blinded as the sun finally rose and a burst of light entered the Great Hall, leaving behind Princess Celestia. After a heart-warming welcome, Celestia turned her attention to a small figure lying at the opposite end of the hall.

“Oh, wow!” Destined said in hushed tones. “Mama Luna looks so small and weak!”

Lucida nodded in agreement. “When she was freed from the Nightmare, she was almost powerless. It will take her many months to get back to the way we know her now.”

They continued to watch until Celestia teleported everypony away.

“I guess we can call this mission a success,” Blue said.

“Just one last loose end to tie up,” Lucida said. “Turn off the silence spell, Des.”

Everyone’s attention turned to the agent in the force bubble.

“What can we do with him?” Pif asked. “He’ll probably blow up like the others if I try to mind-link with him.”

The agent smirked nastily. “It does not matter. You fools have already lost!”

“What do you mean by that?” Lucida demanded.

The changeling sneered in defiance. “Do you think my Queen fights only on one battlefront?”

Blue snarled. “Tell us what she plans!”

The changeling just laughed in his face.

Blue turned to Pif. “Try to get into his head; we have to know!”

Pif looked helplessly at Lucida. “What choice do we have? Taking him back with us is too dangerous, and we can’t leave him here. Maybe I can try another approach?”

Lucida knew Pif was right. There was no making another version of Zark with this one, and if he was booby-trapped like the others, he was just a constant threat. She made her decision. “Okay, give it a try, Pif.”

Pif shifted to her natural changeling form and appeared to gather her thoughts before her horn lit brightly. A beam stabbed through the bubble and hit the agent’s horn. He promptly blew up.

“BUCK IT!” Blue swore.

“No, I got a glimpse before he was triggered,” Pif said. “I saw an image of changelings and zebras gathered for battle.”

Lucida was disappointed. “We already know that they are going to war with the Equestrian forces.”

“There’s more though. The background – I recognize it. They were in Griffonia!”

“What?!” several of them chorused.

Blue’s eyes widened in realization. “Chrysalis is attacking House Path while most of our warriors are supporting the Equestrian forces! She’s kept them and us busy while flanking us. We’ve got to get back now!” He grabbed Destined. “Get ready to send us back!”

Lucida held up her talons. “Whoa! Stop panicking, Blue! It doesn’t matter when we leave.”

“I won’t leave my family unprotected for one second more than I have to! We’re going now!” He started releasing the power he had stored into the vortex generator strapped to his leg. “Des – get us back!”

Destined looked at Lucida helplessly.

“Oh, bucking horseapples! Blue, you idiot! Everyone gather in!”

The time vortex engulfed them.

# # #

They sprawled on the grass outside of the Castle of the Two Sisters. Restoration work had made the castle and the surrounding grounds far friendlier to visitors, but there was no one there to witness the arrival of the nine time-travelers at that moment. One of them was extremely irate.

“Blue, you bucking fool! Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve powered two big time-jumps, one small one, and two teleports all in less than one day, and I don’t believe you were fully recharged after teleporting us in the alternate future! Despite your increased capacity, we’re extremely lucky you had enough power to get us here! How is Destined supposed to teleport us to Griffonia now that you’re drained?”

Horror dawned on Blue’s face as he realized his blunder.

Lucida’s comm suddenly started ringing. She answered it and listened to the caller. Her face grew grim and she said, “We can’t get to you in time. Do your best to contact Princess Luna. May Harmony protect you.”

She shut off the comm and looked at the others who were dreading her next words. “House Path in Griffonia is under siege and there’s absolutely nothing that we can do about it.”

# # #

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world….

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

"I know! We just wait until Blue has recharged enough, and then time-travel back and teleport over! Nothing could possibly go wrong!"

There – I pre-jinxed it. 

If you haven't been reading AlaskaIsCold's story – The Life and Times of Flix the Hippogriff – I recommend that you do because his side story converges with mine in the next chapter.

 
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