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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29. Chapter 18 - Mind Games

Author's Note:

If you have read The Life and Times of Flix the Hippogriff, the first section of this chapter will look familiar because this is where the tales intersect. However, it isn't necessary to read the whole story to appreciate this bit.

And because you can't put an author's note at both the top and bottom - art credit to Foxenawolf

It was on evenings like these that Flix thought back upon his life in Equestria and his family, despite the fact that he had walked out on them months ago. So much had happened since then. A trip across an enormous ocean had been both exciting and perilous, but it had reaped its rewards, both in the adventure and the people that they met. Flix looked over at his latest ally, a bunyip named Mula-Gunang, and chuckled as he remembered how they first met. That damn boomerang – how was he supposed to know that those things could be thrown so that they would loop back around and clobber him? Mula looked back at Flix and grinned, then looked down as Orlonda curled up next to him and yawned. Flix’s changeling marefriend was so cute like that, and he could see the bunyip blush through his matted fur. Flix chuckled, but soon his gaze drifted back to the fire and the night sky that looked like it had sprung forth from it.

This was it. It had taken him nearly half a year, and traveling around the world, but he was content; he was happy. He looked at the white markings on his feathers and fur that he had earned hunting with the tribe, then he looked over at Orlonda and their sea-pony companion, IkaIka, who had similar markings. However, Ika’s had been earned from fishing, and Orlonda’s from scouting.

Orlonda – the changeling was so loyal that she had followed him to the ends of Equus. He had worried about her when they had reached so far away from their homeland that she had actually disconnected from her hive network. She had wailed and cried out for hours of the night, and it had taken days for her to recover enough to walk around again without emotional support. Now she was so much stronger than when they had started, and her will that once was weak was now unbreakable.

As Flix gazed at the fire, it started to change. At first it was just flickering, but then it abruptly flared and suddenly Discord was standing next to the fire. The bunyips from Mula’s tribe all stood up and were starting to reach for their weapons. Discord, rather than snapping his fingers to do something to stop them like turning them all into drawings, let out an unholy roar that nearly knocked them over.

“SIT DOWN!

Shocked, they all sat simultaneously before the Chaos Lord turned his gaze on Flix. He was not joking. He was not playing. For the first time, Flix felt a little scared of him.

“Flix – it’s time for your final exam,” he hissed as he walked toward the hippogriff. This kind of behavior was not like the Discord that Flix knew.

“Repeat the mantra,” Discord commanded as he stepped forward, a strange fractal pattern starting to snake out from his one draconic leg and onto the ground.

Flix knew this part; it was one of the first things that had been taught to him by Discord. He took a deep breath as his eyes closed. They slowly opened back up – his pupils red and the sclera yellow. “I am Chaos. I am the force that creates diversity. Order leads to Stagnation. Stagnation leads to Death. Chaos keeps Order at bay. Order keeps Chaos at bay. The fight has no beginning, no ending. The fight is eternal and the world thrives in the turmoil.” Flix slowly looked back up to Discord who was closer than before.

“What are my rules?” the draconequus demanded.

“The Chaos Lord cannot change the course; he can only introduce factors to increase the viability of the outcome. The Chaos Lord does not take sides; he affects all sides equally, but not at the same time.”

Discord put a claw on his shoulder and started to smile, but it conveyed sadness rather than pleasure. “Flix?”

“Yes, Professor?” Flix was definitely worried.

“All of your family will die within two hours,” Discord said plainly. “What will you do? This is your final test. All restrictions are released. Save your family and pass; I will have nothing left to teach you.” Discord disappeared and the fire went back to normal.

“WE ARE LEAVING NOW!” Flix screeched as he took off towards the boat.

Mula, Ika, and Orlonda stood up and hastily followed Flix.

“How are we going to get back to the House?” Orlonda cried out as they ran. “We are clear on the other side of the world!”

Flix landed on the boat, and as he waited impatiently for the others, he raised a foreleg and held his talons in mid-snap. The normal white flash of power was being restrained and was growing in intensity. His entire talons were brightly lit by the time his three companions had readied the ship.

“What’s wrong with your talons?!” Ika asked in dismay.

“I’m building up improbability and forcing a certainty. I don’t care what Discord warned me about – I will not let them get killed!”

His claws finally snapped and the entire team disappeared, boat and all, leaving a crater on the beach.

A few moments later, the boat appeared over the large pond next to the mansion that was the Griffonian House Path, and it splashed down heavily, destroying the peace that the House normally enjoyed after the sun set. Flix held his head in pain and the trio looked at him with concern. When he looked back, they gasped in surprise – one of his eyes was the solid glowing tone of an Orange Changeling.

“It’s… it’s really not that bad,” Flix said with a forced laugh.

What happened to you?!” Orlonda cried.

“Chaos can be externalized or internalized. The chaos affects the environment, or it affects you.” He snapped his claws again and they appeared in the staff dorm quad, much to the shock of everyone that happened to be out during their quarterly festival.

“What is the meaning of this?!” A mare ran up to the group dressed in a second year cadet uniform. Then she recognized one of the newcomers. “Flix? What are you doing here? What’s going on?!”

Flix was about to explain when several explosions rung out, and three of the four observation towers collapsed to the ground.

It’s already happening! No time! There’s no time!” Flix screeched as he grabbed onto the pony’s neck to drag her attention back to him. “Tell Lord Path that the House is under attack, and that I forgive him.”

The talons holding the squirming pony lit up again, and in a loud bang, the pony disappeared and Flix hit the ground in pain, holding his arm as it changed. While everyone watched, the skin ripped open as scales replaced it, the remnants of a griffon arm falling to the ground. Flix flexed the draconic arm, recovering from the pain.

“Flix… you’re changing!” Ika gasped.

“You don’t control chaos magic, you suggest a result and it will yield... if feels like it. To outright command it carries a heavy price.”

Flix stood up with a growl and looked around. He could see the dull shine of leather and the occasional striped form lit up by the fires being created. The student barracks’ alarm started blaring, but the others soon joined in. To his shock, he noticed that rather than concentrating on the guards and students, the majority of the forces were heading toward the civilian staff dorms.

“They want to kill innocents!” He turned around to face the stunned and confused staff as he yelled in a voice much too loud for his body. “GO INTO YOUR HOMES, LOCK THE DOORS, AND DO NOT OPEN THEM!”

The civilians started screaming as they began to pile into their homes.

Flix started to laugh ironically. “Every House Path son and daughter has a trial by fire, and here I was trying to avoid it.” He looked toward his friends and allies. “Do not let them through! No innocents will die tonight!”

Orlonda and Ika looked at the hippogriff in awe. He had always been so carefree and relaxed. This was somebody new; this was somebody very different. They hoped that it would be enough until his family was able to come to the rescue.

There were some signs of resistance to the invaders. While most of the House Path warriors were with the Equestrian forces that were being led to war in Zebrica, the remaining youths and the teachers were not without ability. Surprise and great numbers were on the zebras’ side though. As Flix’s companions led the charge against the horde, the students with sufficient skills rallied behind them. The difference in experience was telling though, and if it wasn’t for the efforts of the foursome, the carnage would have been terrible. More than once, a life was saved at the last moment by the intervention of one of the four.

IkaIka fought with fluidity and grace. Orlonda was fired up by the energy of the passion and hopes of those she battled to protect. Mula reveled in fighting for a cause. However, Flix fought to protect precious life at whatever the cost. While he tried to use his weapons for the most part, more than once in desperation he directed chaos magic too specifically, and it rebounded on him. His right hind leg was the next limb to painfully morph into a match for his bunyip companion’s, making him collapse to the ground in agony. Blinking away tears of pain, he got back up and resumed the fight, only to eventually have to use chaos magic in the forbidden fashion once more. This time he gained a sea-pony’s tail, not only stabbing him with pain, but also throwing off his balance with its unfamiliar weight. Still he fought, but still the zebras came.

Flix ducked under a sword slash and bucked a zebra in the face, knocking him out and leaving him in a heap on the ground. He turned to see Orlonda close to him, fighting a zebra warrior with horn blasts, but Flix noticed a second zebra lunging at her with a spear. His eyes went wide with fear as he leaped at her. It was over so quickly, he didn’t have the time to knock the zebra out.

Orlonda heard a cry behind her. Whirling around, she saw Flix standing up above her with a spear coming partway out of his chest. She let out a scream of fury and blasted the zebra away.

Flix let out a loud screech as his eyes fogged over in pain. All of his companions formed up around him as the Zebra forces ignored the staff for the moment to deal with the four serious threats.

“This is bad. This is very bad! How are we going to win?!” IkaIka cried.

Flix grated out, “We don’t have to win… they just… have to lose.” He held up the claws of his dragon limb and they began to glow brightly. He coughed as he focused, blood starting to dribble out of his beak. “You lose... we win….” The chaos power erupted as the zebras lunged toward the four fighters.

# # #

Lucida started to calm down. Rubbing her temples to relieve her stress, she said, “Okay, let’s look at our situation logically. We’re stuck here for now, and the best that we can do is head out of the Everfree and go to Ponyville. We can’t ask Mama Luna to help because she not only has to stay and protect Canterlot in case Chrysalis has another raid planned there, but she’s also so close to giving birth that she shouldn’t be involved with fighting unless it’s a dire emergency. Auntie Celestia is tied up with the war down in Zebrica. Mama Twilight isn’t powerful enough yet to teleport us all there if she isn’t already in Griffonia. None of us thought to pack an emergency return-crystal. To put it bluntly, we’re not getting to Griffonia anytime soon.”

“I can recharge enormously faster than I used to,” Blue pointed out.

“How much faster? You would need enough to power the teleport us and still have enough left over to fight a battle. By that time, the fight would likely be over, one way or the other. That means we would still be better off waiting longer so you would have enough power for a time-jump also.”

“Then what’s the problem? We jump back in time and fix things like we always do.”

Destined frowned. “But should we? This won’t be correcting Chrysalis’ time-meddling – this would be uschanging History.”

Blue looked at Destined in disbelief. “We don’t know that we aren’t supposed to be arriving in the nick of time anyway. We’ve already made unavoidable changes to the timeline that have become the new History. We’ve also done things that History says we were always destined to have done!” He shook his head in confusion. “Did I say that right?”

Lucida said, “I think you did, but Des has a point – at what stage do we stop being the solution and become part of the problem?”

“We already knew about the attack because of the agent in the past, so you only confirmed it with that comm call,” Blue replied. “If we just wait here without checking for news, we can still go back to the beginning of the battle as if we came directly from the past.”

“That’s rationalization, and you know it,” Lucida retorted. “What’s wrong with you, Blue? You used to be a level-headed leader of warriors, but now you just want to jump without thinking! Have all those physical changes also caused mental changes?”

Blue started to angrily retort, lifting his forehoof to point accusingly at Lucida, but he stopped and stared at the limb. The weeks of training had changed it so much! When had his hoof become cloven? The glittering scales that led up from the hoof to his knee were beautiful, but definitely not a pony’s natural looks. He had changed alright, but perhaps too much? Was he becoming a stranger to his own family? He lowered his hoof and his ire deflated. “I’m sorry, Lucy. Perhaps I have been too impulsive, but I still feel that we need to fix this.”

Lucida looked back to Destined. “What do you say, Des? Is it our place to fix this?”

Destined had to consider it for a long moment before answering. “I’m really unsure, but I can’t find enough reason not to try. I’ll agree to it – this time.”

Lucida looked around at the other members of the team. “Any other opinions, guys?”

“I could not stand by knowing that I could have acted,” Watchful replied.

Pif said, “As far as I’m concerned, GramGram started this, and we’re obligated to stop it.”

“I think that while Destined has a very good point, we’re lacking data to back it up. We should proceed as planned, but be alert for any consequences,” Glenn opined.

Citrine snorted. “You know where I stand!”

Lucida drew in a deep breath and let it out in a huff. “Okay, I think we have a consensus. We’re going to camp here until Blue is sure that he’s sufficiently recharged for a time-jump. Everyone else rest up and get something to eat too. We’ve got a battle to prepare for!”

# # #

A flash of light filled the square in the middle of the training compound at House Path’s Griffonian school, and several forms emerged from it and landed in a heap. They startled Path and Roseclaw who had been standing nearby, looking at four stone statues.

Destined threw his forelegs over his head to stop his skull from exploding, and he moaned, “Never again! Damn magic barrier!”

Blue scrambled to his hooves and looked about wildly, ready to fight the enemy, but saw nothing except his startled parents. “Where’s the battle?” he demanded.

Pif put a hoof around his neck, pulled him around to face her, and barked, “Stand down, Blue! My drones tell me that the battle with the zebras is over.”

Lucida groaned as she pulled herself from under Watchful and Citrine. “Now I know what a time-bounce feels like. Can’t say that I want to experience that again.”

“Tell me about it!” Destined said fervently, having decided that his head was not going to blow up after all.

Roseclaw stepped up to Blue, giving his new appearance a thorough looking over. She fixed him with a fierce glare and said sternly, “You have a lot of explaining to do, Mister!”

As his adrenaline high faded, Blue began to feel a touch of nervousness. “A-heh! Long story, Mama.”

“Can the recriminations wait until later, Mom?” Lucida asked. “Last we heard, zebras were overrunning the compound…” She paused as she noticed something. “Is that a statue of Flix? What happened to him?”

Path sighed. “Half right. It is Flix. He’s the reason that the battle is over already.”

Lucida and the others got a good look at Flix and his three petrified companions.

“Okay, as I was saying, what happened here? And how did Flix end up like that? And what was that barrier that we hit?”

“We’re trying to determine all that right now,” Path answered. “I have warriors going around, taking out the last remaining zebra warriors, and making sure that every last one is accounted for, including scouting for any that might still be in concealment nearby, hoping to catch us off-guard in a second attack. The civilians are doing a damage and injury assessment as we speak, but so far I am happy to hear that although there were many casualties, the only deaths were on the part of the zebras. We have Flix to thank for that. Apparently he and his companions got here just in time to start getting the civilians out of harm’s way, and lead the fight against the invaders. Ultimately when they were close to being overwhelmed, Flix used some sort of chaos spell to petrify everyone and everything within a large radius. That took out the vast majority of the zebras. When we arrived, we dealt with the remainder with the help of the trainees. Then the petrification started wearing off and we secured those zebras in an orderly manner. Unfortunately those at ground zero seem to be more permanently affected. Discord assures us that it will eventually wear off, but even he is uncertain when.”

“And the magic barrier? Is that why you couldn’t get to help Flix sooner?”

“Absolutely right. Your mother, Free, Shining Armor, and myself used one of our emergency return crystals to get here, only to be blocked quite a long way from here. We had to spend time flying in, and a huge amount can happen in the space of a few minutes. I gather that the barrier affected you also?”

Destined replied, “The spell had a temporal component. We actually teleported over and tried to time-jump back, but bounced off a barrier. I still have a splitting headache from that. Anyway, it means that we can’t use a time-jump at all to stop the attack from happening. This worries me because it shows that Chrysalis and the Nightmare have a new trick that can give us major problems.”

Lucida’s gaze was still upon her brother and his altered form. “And we can’t help Flix. So, is he a draconequus now?”

Path nodded. “Pretty much. Discord seems to think that’s the way he’ll be from now on.”

Lucida sighed sadly. “I was hoping that his extended holiday would get him away from the chaos that had been affecting his mind so much lately, but instead he seems to have embraced it totally.”

“I don’t know if getting Discord to teach Chaos Theory was a huge mistake on my part, but it did seem to have a positive effect on him. Flix was certainly his favorite student, and they seemed to work well together.” Path regarded his immobile son. “But it tore our family apart as the chaos started affecting Flix’s mind. His delusions of being ignored were only amplified by our commitment to giving him the chance to grow into his own person without the pressures that we put you other kids under, and that was probably our greatest mistake.”

Glenn was upset by this revelation. “I never got to meet Flix - what happened to him?”

Path explained, “He had a growing feeling of isolation and being ignored by those that should have been closest to him. For example, Free attended every one of Flix’s art exhibitions, but always incognito so that he wouldn’t be accused of showing favoritism or pressuring judges. Flix didn’t believe him though. Flix’s growing chaos power conflicted with Twilight’s so much that she had to start avoiding them in order not to do damage to them, but Flix saw this as a rejection of his art. In fact so much of his teenage angst was amplified by his chaos studies that it made everything we did seem like an attack on him before the big blow-up with Celestia. The Princess had been concerned about the effects that his latest installation were having on some ponies, and after trying it for herself, asked Flix to suspend it until its safety could be improved. By that time, Flix was so mired in his delusions that he saw it as an unreasonable attack on his art and himself personally, and he lashed out at Celestia with a chaos spell. We were fortunate that Twilight and her friends were able to use Harmony on Celestia before she did anything too drastic. There’s a really good reason why thinking beings need a brake on their impulses.” He shuddered in recollection.

Lucida pointed at the petrified changeling. “Flix ventured out on a journey with his companion, Orlonda. We were getting reports that showed that he was mellowing out and getting more rational. Luna kept as close a watch on him as was within her power, encouraging him to explore and make discoveries, even such things that she already knew like the southern constellations. This break was probably the best thing to happen to him as the continuing conflicts with family were gone, and he was maturing. We really hoped that he would come back to us soon and reconcile with the family.” She sighed. “I hope he survives this turn of events.”

Path put a reassuring foreleg around Lucida’s shoulders. “When Flix sent the messenger to alert us to the attack, he also instructed him to give me one other message, and that was that he forgave me. I think we can have high hopes of getting our son or brother back again.”

Lucida managed a smile. “That’s really good news, Dad. We’ll throw him the biggest part–”

She was interrupted by a pony galloping up to them and skidding to a halt in front of Path.

“My Lord! Two of the zebra captives are Blue Changelings! General Warfist requests your immediate presence!”

“What?! Take me to them!” Path demanded.

“Sir – there’s another thing…” The pony hesitated.

“Out with it already!”

“General Breezon is missing.”

The blast of anger and hate made Pif and Watchful reel from its impact.

# # #

The messenger led Path to the holding cells, accompanied by Roseclaw and the time-team. They met up there with Free, Carpacia, Shining Armor, and Warfist.

“Status, General?!” Path demanded as soon as he spotted the aged warrior griffon.

Warfist replied grimly, “It seems that the Zebrican attack force was a diversion to mask the release of Breezon – a diversion we did not catch until it was too late. Two Blue Changelings were left behind – we assume deliberately. One just keeps repeating a string of numbers and is unresponsive to questions, but the second one asked for you directly.”

Path seethed for a moment before turning to Carpacia. “I need you to keep Fifi at your hive until all this is over. My House and its students and staff have been attacked, and I’ve lost a son and a bitter enemy today. I don’t intend to lose any more. Besides, I don’t think she needs to see just yet how ugly I can get.”

Carpacia nodded wordlessly, for once overwhelmed by the pony’s sheer intensity.

“I’m going in to talk to the prisoners. I suggest all changelings stay back from the cell because I don’t know if I will be able to contain my emotions. Shining Armor, could you come with me, please. I know that you can shield us, but please also cast a barrier around the cell once we’re inside.”

The alicorn and the earth pony entered the cell and saw the two drones in shackles. Shining put up his barrier and shield and then addressed the drones.

“You can cut out the act – as Lord Path guessed, I know you’re not really chained up anymore.”

The quiet drone shrugged, and all the locks sprung open and the chains fell to the floor. The drone then spoke, but rather than the hissing voice that they expected of it, instead came the familiar voice of the Mad Queen. “I should have realized that you would figure that out, Shiny – or are you the Alicorn of Protection now? You’re welcome, by the way.” The drone’s form contorted and shifted until the likeness of Queen Chrysalis stood before them.

Path was not fooled – this wasn’t the real Chrysalis. She was using a relay technique that Pif had pioneered, except she should not have been capable of doing that at all. “I see that the Nightmare has taught you new tricks, Chrysalis.”

The Queen smirked at him. “So, you know of my ally. No matter – it will only lend weight to my words.”

“What do you want, Chrysalis?” Shining asked. “You didn’t leave two drones here just to gloat at us.”

She gave them an insufferable smile. “What do I want? I want to see you suffer as much as I have. I want to destroy everything you hold dear.”

Path scowled at her. “You know that this means that I’m going to come at you with everything that I have at my disposal? You’re a menace to all of Equestria and beyond redemption. I won’t be satisfied with merely defeating you.”

Chrysalis laughed. “Oh, Long Path, you assume that you have the upper hoof. This skirmish was just the beginning!” She looked at Shining Armor. “Can you tell me what the time is? They don’t have a clock in this cell, and you kept me waiting so long.”

Shining frowned in puzzlement. “It’s early afternoon. Why?”

“Hmm… Shouldn’t Princess Flurry Heart be arriving on her diplomatic mission to Yakyakistan right about now?” The queen let the comment hang there.

Shining’s eyes went wide. “What have you done, witch?!” he roared.

“Oh, I’m certain she’s doing a lot better than a certain hippogriff, wouldn’t you say, Pat–”

The changelings outside of the barrier staggered away from the door where they had been listening as the sheer magnitude of Path’s hate battered them. The avatar of Chrysalis was in far worse condition though, the chitin on her cheek shattered and blood leaked onto the floor where she had sprawled from the impact of Path’s hoof. Yet still she laughed.

Path snarled, “You have crossed the line, Chrysalis. There will be no resurrection this time. You will die! Your hive will die. All your allies will be destroyed. I will never let you win, worm!”

The altered drone was starting to wilt under the force of all the negative emotion being directed at it, but still it giggled insanely. “Well then, it seems we are in a race. Can I destroy you before you destroy me? Considering that I already took some of your pawns out of the game, I think I’m in the lead.”

Path lost it then. “I will have your skull mounted in my study!” There was a wet crunch as his hoof stove in her chest carapace. “Your nymphs will fertilize the fields!” Another wet crunch.

Chrysalis’ laugh was more of a gurgle by now. “Try all you want… I still win…” the hijacked drone gasped out before it expired. The corpse shimmered and resumed its normal appearance.

Path turned his attention to the other drone which had continued to mumble its unending string of numbers throughout the conversation. He started to move in on it too, but Shining held him back.

“Let the others deal with that drone. We’ve got more important things to do.”

Path seethed for a moment before nodding. He turned and headed out of the cell as Shining dropped the barrier.

The audience was taken aback by the blood that coated half of Path’s legs, and a guard who looked into the cell immediately became sickened at the sight that greeted his eyes.

Path said, “Rose, you and General Warfist must organize a proper defense of this and all other House Path facilities until such time as Chrysalis’ threat is over. We cannot have what happened here happen again, even if it ties up some of our forces.”

“You know that she is trying to divide and weaken us,” Warfist commented.

“Of course, but she will learn that we are still formidable. I haven’t spent the last couple of decades preparing for nothing!”

“What about us, Dad?” Lucida asked.

“There’s a drone still in there. Find out what it’s talking about. I have a hunch it’s important, but I don’t trust myself with it.”

“Okay, Dad. Leave it to us.”

“Where will you be, my warrior?” Roseclaw asked.

“Shining and I have an international incident to prevent in Yakyakistan, and perhaps family to save at the same time.”

“How are you going to get there?” We don’t have any return crystals made for that country.”

Shining spoke up. “Leave that to me.”

Roseclaw looked at him skeptically. “Since when can you teleport that far? Last time I looked, you could barely cross the street!”

Shining flushed a little at the disparaging yet accurate remark. “Twily has been working on other forms of emergency travel besides return crystals which have their limitations. So far this one can only be used by alicorns. Fortunately I am one. Time’s wasting though. Path and I have to go.”

Shining’s horn flared with a spell, and a sphere formed around him and Path. They seemingly accelerated at a prodigious rate but without the effects of inertia, and without being affected by having to pass through walls, trees, or anything else in their way. It was also somewhat disorientating.

Path squeezed his eyes shut to prevent the onset of motion-sickness. “When you told me earlier about this magitek version of teleporting, I imagined something a lot less nauseating!”

“Still bugs in the spell,” Shining admitted.

“How does it work?” Path asked, hoping to keep his mind off the queasy sensation.

“It forms a tunnel through space-time that is connected to a receiver icon at the other end. We had one installed at King Rutherford’s court on our last visit for testing purposes. The bubble around us effectively reduces our inertia to zero, which enables us to accelerate to enormous speeds.”

“How many can you take in one of these?”

“I’d say that we could take a squad.”

“That would save us from wasting expensive and difficult-to-make return crystals – at least once you don’t need an alicorn to power it.”

“Yeah. Good thing that we couldn’t use it to get to Griffonia though.”

Path gave him a curious look. “Aside from teleportation being the faster option, why not?”

“The magic barrier would have cancelled the spell. We would have gone from hyper-speed to zero in no time flat, and have been smeared onto the barrier.”

Path shuddered. “Right – no using hyper tunnels through magic shields! Wait! What if there’s a similar shield in Yakyakistan?!”

Shining smirked at Path’s slightly panicked tone. “Like I said, we couldn’t have used it anyway. The magic barrier would have prevented the spell from locking onto the receiver icon. Since we have locked on, there’s no barrier.”

“Oh. That’s a relief.” He gave Shining a sour look. “You deliberately left out that part, didn’t you?”

Shining nodded. “I wanted you to calm your anger and focus on our task. Seemed like a good idea.”

“Yeah, I suppose it was,” Path grumbled. “So what’s our E.T.A.?”

“I’d say about ten more seconds.”

“As soon as we arrive, cast a changeling detection spell.”

Shining nodded. “Try not to kill it before we can interrogate it.”

“No promises,” Path replied grimly.

# # #

As the white alicorn stallion and grey earth pony disappeared, Free quietly said to Roseclaw, “I’m scared, Rose.”

Carpacia nodded in agreement. “So much hate and anger… very rarely have I felt something that intense.”

Roseclaw responded with a smile of pride. “Our stallion is a warrior! For years he has been focusing himself on protecting our family from its enemies. The fight with Breezon was just the beginning. The Mad Queen has made a serious mistake, and the timing of your joining up with us is fortuitous, Queen Carpacia. When the final battle begins, you will witness him in his element, and it will be wondrous!”

“Even Dad can’t do everything alone, Mama,” Blue said. “Come on, Lucy – let’s find out what that other drone is here for.”

Lucida followed Blue into the cell, while Destined and Watchful watched from the doorway.

For the first time, the drone reacted upon seeing Blue. It stopped talking, stared intently at the transformed pony, then started repeating the numbers again, but with the addition of a name – Poppy Hill.

Blue’s eyes widened in recognition and he gasped in shock. He turned and headed for the door, and Lucida scrambled to follow.

“Blue! What is it? Did you recognize what the drone was talking about?”

Blue ignored her and grabbed the vortex manipulator. “Des – prepare for a time-jump.”

“Wait! What?” Destined responded, confused by the turn of events.

Lucida grabbed Blue by the arm. “You’re not going anywhere, mister! Explain yourself!”

Blue glared at Lucida for a moment before relenting. “Poppy Hill is the original name of what is called Blight Hill now, and the numbers are the date and time that my birth parents were killed.” He effortless shook her off. “I’m going there now, whether you like it or not.”

Lucida scowled. “Not without us, Blue! We’re a team, and we’re your family. You don’t think you’re going to leave us behind, do you?”

Blue smiled gratefully before he got back to business. “You heard the time, Des. Think you can deflect us enough to emerge at Blight Hill?”

“No problem, brother,” Destined said confidently.

“Then let’s go!” The time-team members gathered in close, while everyone else backed away. A moment later, the time vortex engulfed them.

Carpacia grimaced and said, “Well – I hope we don’t get wiped out of History this time around.”

# # #

Prince Rutherford greeted Princess Flurry Heart’s entourage in typical Yakyakistan fashion.

Yaks welcome Flurry Heart to Yakyakistan. Ponies friends for a thousand moons!

Flurry Heart stepped forward and bowed. “I bring greetings from the Crystal Kingdom, and welcome this opportunity to discuss trade with you.”

Yaks welcome insight into trade agreements for Yak ores. Yaks make perfect trade treaties!

Flurry Heart’s smile grew wider as she approached the Prince.

A loud bang rang out in the throne room. Long Path and Shining Armor appeared, skidding to a halt while Shining lit his horn up, firing up a detection spell. In mere moments the alicorn’s eyes went wide.

The yak guards sprang into action, surrounding the two newcomers, glaring hostilely.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS, SHINING ARMOR?!” Rutherford yelled.

“That is not my daughter, it’s an imposter!” Shining barked back.

Flurry Heart hissed and lunged at the king. However she only got about halfway before one of the guards slammed her back with a shield, sending her flying. Shining grabbed her in his magic and slammed her into the ground with enough force to shock the changeling out of her disguise.

“Where is my daughter?” Shining snarled.

The 'ling just grinned back insolently. “A daughter for a daughter… a fair trade don’t you think?”

Rutherford and the guards regrouped about the pair. “This happen on Yakyakistan soil. She Yak’s prisoner!

“Can you make her talk?” Path asked.

Rutherford chuckled darkly. “Yaks have ways to make her sing!

# # #

Shining Armor and Long Path slid to a halt on the slick floor of the Crystal Palace. Startled by their booming arrival, Cadance and Twilight Sparkle quickly recovered and hastened over to the pair. Shining was panting like he had run a marathon, the second trip having taken a lot out of him. The princesses both gasped at the sight of Path’s blood-soaked legs.

What’s going on?!” Twilight screamed. “Why are you covered in blood?!

“What happened in Griffonia?” Cadance asked in a much more reasonable urgent tone.

Path said, “Short version – the Griffonian House is safe now, Flix has returned but not without complications, but most importantly right now – Flurry Heart has been abducted.”

“WHAT?!” screeched Cadance.

Shining said, “The attack on the Griffonian House was a double diversion. While you stayed here to protect the Crystal Kingdom against surprise attacks, no one was thinking about Flurry’s diplomatic mission. She was snatched by the Blue Changelings and replaced with an impostor with the intention of assassinating Prince Rutherford. That would have led to war between the Yaks and the Crystal Kingdom, and of course Equestria too, which would have divided our forces at a critical time. At the same time, General Breezon was freed by an infiltration team operating under the cover of the sneak attack on the House. To the best of our knowledge, both Breezon and Flurry have been taken back to Zebrica.”

“But how? Changelings can’t teleport!” Twilight asked. “Well… with the exception of Pif, that is.”

“We’ve been underestimating the Zebra shamans constantly. Chrysalis’ allies are a lot more powerful than we have given them credit for. Celestia’s armies may be in for some nasty surprises.”

Twilight frowned. “It’s time to take the gloves off our hooves. Let’s show Chrysalis that you don’t mess with alicorns, nor House Path, but you especially don’t mess with my family!”

# # #

The time-team tumbled out of the time-stream as usual. Hastening to get to their hooves and feet, they looked around to get their bearings. It was a near-idyllic scene of a forest glade with tall trees surrounding an open field filled with blooming poppies in a myriad of colors. The one jarring note was the groans of agony coming from the neighborhood of a felled tree. They looked over to see a small blue colt crying beside the tree, and they heard a pained voice say, “Run, Blue! *cough* Get help!”

With a howl of fear and misery, the colt took off and disappeared from sight in the forest.

They rushed over to find two earth ponies crushed under its weight. The mare was unconscious and possibly dead already, but the stallion was in a hollow that had spared him from immediately being crushed to death, but his injuries were obviously so severe that he was not likely to last for long.

“Mom! Dad!” cried Blue Streak in horror.

The stallion struggled to look up at the newcomers. “Wh- arrgh! Who’s that?”

Blue looked around at Destined. “You’ve got to get my father out of there!”

Destined gave him a heartbroken look. “Blue – his injuries are too great. Even if I could lift this massive tree, the crush injuries he’s sustained will finish him in moments. I simply can’t heal that much damage!”

“No! You have to try!”

“Don’t you think I would if I could? Besides, you would be changing History. You don’t know what consequences there would be.”

I would have my birth parents back, that’s what!” Blue shouted.

Think, Blue! If you’re never adopted by Long Path, our entire family will never come to be!”

“Blue?” came the choking voice of the trapped stallion.

Blue’s eyes locked with his father’s, and a moment of comprehension dawned in the stallion’s eyes.

“H-how… *cough* How’s this possible?”

“Dad…” Blue whispered. “I… I can’t….”

“You can save them,” came a new voice.

Queen Chrysalis stepped out from concealment and strolled insolently up to the group. Several of them snarled and braced for a fight, including Blue, but Lucida held up a foreleg to constrain him.

“What do you want, agent?” she asked, recognizing that, as usual, this was not the real Queen Chrysalis.

“Oh, don’t be so rude, Lady Lucida. I am no less than a part of Chrysalis embodied just for this task and no less deserving of respect.”

“No less deserving our contempt then,” snarled Citrine who was itching to attack.

The Chrysalis avatar smiled condescendingly at Citrine. “Quiet your uncivil tongue, little pony. Blue Streak and I have bargaining to do.”

“Like my sister asked, what do you want, Chrysalis?”

“Me? What do you want, Blue Streak. I made this happen, but I can equally make this not happen. Your parents would live and you would grow up with a loving father and mother.”

Blue glanced back at his father who, despite his injuries, seemed to be paying close attention to the conversation.

“You’ve figured it all out, haven’t you?” Lucida said. “Without Blue, we would not have the power to time-travel and stop your machinations.”

“You wound me, Lady Lucida. I merely offer a fair exchange – Blue Streak’s parents in exchange for my daughter.”

“And the rest of Equestria!” Citrine spat.

“Why should I believe anything that you say?” Blue demanded.

“I will have my daughter to satisfy me. I swear on my Hive that I will not make any move on Equestria or the Crystal Kingdom until after your deaths. We don’t need to be enemies, Blue Streak – we can both win.” She held out a hoof to him. “Take my hoof and seal our bargain.”

Blue could say nothing, torn by the agony of having to either watch his birth parents die, or sacrifice his current family. Slowly though, his hoof started to rise.

“No, Blue!” Lucida gasped.

Blue barely noticed her, but he was surprised when his father started talking.

“S-Son… you are better than this….” The tan earth pony coughed again, his teeth stained red. “I... I don’t know what’s going on... or if this is even real... *cough* but if we must die… to save our home… *cough cough* then so be it… Do not yield to the *cough* messenger bearing… false gifts.” His breath became even more labored as he started to succumb to his injuries. “We love you son... and we always will…” He looked past Blue for a moment. “Can I have one more moment, please?”

Everyone wondered what Blue’s father was looking at but saw nothing, with the exception of Destined. He gasped in shock at the sight of an alicorn made of smoke with no features except glowing eyes.

Your time has come, Fertile Fields. Your son should not be here to stop me from taking you to greener pastures. Say your farewells.

Destined was chilled to the core as he recognized Mort, the Spirit of Death. He tore his eyes away from the dread sight as Fertile Fields spoke once more.

“Don’t ever give in… *cough* to evil, son, for they… *cough cough* they will strike you down… in a moment of… weakness…” His breathing rattled and he coughed up blood. “Goodbye, son… I love… you….”

The light of life left the stallion’s eyes, and Blue howled in sorrow.

The avatar of Chrysalis smiled benignly. “I can still save them, Blue Streak. Just agree to my-ACK!

The agent collapsed to the ground with her neck broken by the lightning punch that Blue had thrown, her disguise evaporating and revealing the changeling drone beneath. Blue stood over the corpse, seething.

Pif started to shake from the intense emotions that her brother had pouring out of him. “Blue – calm down! You can’t let her get to you like this!”

I am done with this bucking game!” His special boots shattered as he started to draw massive amounts of power from the hilltop. The poppies started to wilt, the grass withered, and the leaves on the trees turned brown and started to fall off the branches.

Destined felt a wave of weakness come over him, and he realized to his horror what was happening. He launched himself into the air and hovered, then used his magic to levitate Citrine and Forest off the ground. “Everyone get off the ground!” he yelled at the rest. “Blue is draining all the mana in the area, and if you’re in contact with the ground, he’ll drain you too!”

Some of them were already weakened so much that they struggled to get into the air, but once they were out of contact with the earth, they began to recover their strength.

“Blue! You’re draining the very life-energy of this whole area! You’re killing everything! Stop before you go too far!”

No! I’m done with all this! We’re going to stop this once and for all!

“We can’t! The paradox wi–”

BUCK THE PARADOX!” Blue’s enhanced body soaked up mana at a prodigious rate. Everything around him died, and death spread away from him at an alarming rate, permanently blighting the hill as the life energy was stolen. His eyes started glowing with the power he contained, and still he took in more. The mana channels on his body also started to show up as blinding white lines of power crisscrossing his body as they were overtaxed. “TAKE ME THERE, DESTINED! END THIS MADNESS ONCE AND FOR ALL!

Destined was torn by indecision. He couldn’t do what Blue wanted, but if he didn’t do something soon, Blue would burn himself out and die.

“Des! Do something! Anything!” Lucida yelled.

Destined closed his eyes and murmured, “Forgive me, Doctor.” He started to plot a sixteen dimensional course to feed into the vortex manipulator that was long enough to use up the huge amount of power that Blue had absorbed and leave him incapacitated, buying them time to deal with the situation. He flinched as the device exploded from the overload, and still Blue drew in more power. Destined gulped nervously. Too much! Blue was going to need expert medical help soon, and the past was not going to be of any use to them. Between paradox and desperate need, there was only one thing left to do. His horn lit up with his magic, and his special talent dragged the group into the time vortex. Their explosive exit flattened the dead vegetation, leaving a barren hilltop that would never again support life.

# # #

The throne room of the palace in the capital of the Zebrican Empire shuddered from the boom of a terminating hyper-velocity tunnel, and Shining Armor burst into the enormous chamber, skidding to a stop along with twenty Crystal Kingdom Royal Guards armed to the teeth. He immediately threw up a shield in time to deflect several arrows loosed in their direction by the zebra warriors stationed about the room. He then glared at the changeling with a broken horn idly lounging in a throne made of bones lined with the pelts of various species, their skulls staring sightlessly from their perch on top of the throne. Breezon petted Flurry Heart who was lying docilely at the foot of the throne.

“Breezon! Release Flurry right now!” Shining demanded.

Despite his surprise at their mode of arrival, General Breezon smirked at him insolently. “Don’t be so rude, Prince Armor. You are an uninvited visitor in my palace. Besides, you are in no position to demand anything.”

At a signal from the changeling, a multitude of zebras and changeling drones came out of concealment, all of them aiming a plethora of weapons at the squad, and readying various magics.

Shining and his Guards were severely outnumbered, but he was undaunted. “Get your hooves off my daughter before I break them off like Path broke your horn.”

Breezon frowned a little. “Now, Shining, is that any way to treat your future son-in-law?” He looked down at Flurry with a lascivious grin. “After all, a king deserves a beautiful princess – isn’t that right, my dear?”

Flurry gazed back at Breezon with vacant eyes. “Yes, my love,” she replied hollowly.

Breezon looked back at Shining and grinned maliciously. “I don’t know how you got here, but you’re just in time for the wedding.”

Shining Armor had no intention of telling Breezon that one of the pieces of jewelry that Flurry was wearing was actually a receiver icon for the transport spell. Too many secrets had been lost to the enemy already. “Wedding’s called off on account of the death of the groom,” he replied just as another boom announced the arrival of Cadance with a squad of war mage unicorns.

Another boom immediately followed, and Twilight and Path appeared with a team of warrior griffons, armed and armored for mayhem.

Breezon snarled, pulled out a dagger, and tried to kill Flurry, only to be stopped by a bubble of magic surrounding her. The changeling’s actions triggered the assault, and the throne room exploded into violent warfare.

Despite their lesser numbers, the Equestrian and Griffonian forces ripped through the enemy forces, exactly as planned. Instead of rushing off to Flurry’s rescue, Path, Shining, and Twilight had worked out a battle strategy and called in special strike forces. They suspected that a trap had been laid for them with Flurry as the bait, and an anti-teleport spell was likely in effect to force them to fight their way to her, greatly increasing the danger. Fortunately that particular spell had no effect on the hyper-velocity spell, and there was no barrier to stop the rescue party. The war mages coped more than adequately with the Zebrican shamans, while the crack troops severely outclassed the zebra and changeling warriors. In a shockingly short time, the room was filled with dead and dying zebras and changelings, and Breezon found himself bound by magic to his erstwhile throne.

Cadance approached Flurry Heart and took the young princess’s head in her hooves. The older alicorn’s horn lit up, and her gentle magic suffused her daughter.

Flurry blinked and looked about with confusion. “Mom? What’s happening?”

“You were foalnapped, dear, but you’re safe now.”

“Which is more than I can say for Breezon,” Path snarled.

The changeling merely spat at him.

“You’ve threatened my House and my family for the last time, General Breezon. As Lord of the noble Griffonian House of Path, I hereby condemn you to death.”

Twilight frowned. “No, Path. We can’t simply execute a helpless prisoner.”

Path glared at Twilight for a long moment before nodding. “Very well. Let’s head out. We have a war to fight.”

Cadance took her squad first, and Twilight followed immediately afterwards. As Shining prepared to take the last of rescuers back, Path walked back over to Breezon who sneered in contempt at him. Path put his hooves on either side of the changeling’s head. “Let the sentence be carried out.” He violently twisted Breezon’s head, and his neck snapped. The lifeless changeling slumped in his former throne as Path turned back to Shining Armor. “He was killed trying to escape,” Path said matter-of-factly.

Shining merely nodded and executed the transport spell, leaving the throne room occupied by none but the dead. Neither noticed a dead-person switch had activated a timer to a device concealed behind the throne. The biggest mana bomb in the history of Equus ticked closer towards its intended dread task.

# # #

The passage through the time vortex seemed to take forever this time, even when duration was a meaningless concept in the time-stream. However, eventually eight figures fell out of a swirling hole in space-time onto the lawns in front of a mansion. Blue Streak collapsed unconscious, utterly drained, while Destined nursed his scorched horn and moaned with pain. The others picked themselves up and looked around. While there were several changes, one thing was still pretty obvious.

“We’re just outside of the House Path headquarters,” Pif said, “but when?”

“I can answer that, Pif,” came a voice from above.

They all looked up to see a magnificent alicorn stallion coming in for a landing. He was as big as Princess Celestia, or maybe a bit bigger, and he had a deep blue coat with a long and ethereally-waving mane the colors of a sunset. He folded his wings, and smiled at them.

“It is so good to see you all once more. It’s been quite a while.”

Lucida’s beak dropped in shocked recognition. “Des?”

“Yes, Lucy?”

“You’ve grown.”

“Two and a half millennia will do that.”

“Two thousand five hundred years?!” squawked Pif.

“2,489 years and seventy days to be exact. That’s how much power my younger self had to drain from Blue Streak. Speaking of which, he needs medical attention, and so does young me who seems to have lost consciousness. Let’s get you into the House and let our medical personnel deal with this.” The alicorn lit up his horn and lifted Blue and Destined in his magic.

“Obviously you’re going to be okay, but what about Blue? Cinder will kill us if we don’t bring back her mate.”

“Don’t worry, Epiphany, I won’t let anything happen to my brother. The one thing that I can say about a couple of thousand years of medical advancements is that we can work near-miracles. He’ll live, and he has quite a role to play as yet. This version of History is not yet set in stone.”

“I see… umm… Des – didn’t you used to have a thought-bubble as a cutie mark?”

Surprised, the rest of the team looked at the alicorn’s flank. Instead of a thought-bubble, a golden pocket watch was proudly displayed.

“I thought it was impossible to change a cutie mark,” Silk said.

“It is impossible,” Destined confirmed. “Or at least we still haven’t found a way to do it after all these centuries. The old one was a product of the same magic that gave Lucida her new coloration.”

“It was a fake?” Lucida gasped. “But we held a cute-ceañera and all for you when you got that mark!”

Destined gave her an apologetic smile. “I was a young adult alicorn and still without a cutie-mark. I was really embarrassed about that and decided to create one for myself. Silly in retrospect, but that’s why I had a fake until I got my real one.”

“When did you get it then?” Pif asked.

Silk smiled and said, “Probably when he performed some extraordinary act with his special talent.” He pointed at the younger alicorn still being carried along. “Anyone looked closely at him yet?”

They all did and saw what Silk had spotted – the gold pocket watch.

“Let me be the first to congratulate you,” Silk said with a grin.

The older Destined chuckled. “By the curious twists and turns of time-travel, I suppose you are. Thanks, my love.”

Silk sobered for a moment. “Des – were we… together until… you know?”

Destined looked at him with enormous affection. “Yes, we were.”

“Were we happy together?”

“Always. I missed you terribly after you were gone.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“Don’t be. Even though they call it the alicorn’s curse, it is better to know love for a short while than to never take the chance of being hurt. Besides, our children would never have been born if we had never become lovers.”

“Children?” Silk looked at him curiously. “Which of us became the mare?”

Destined guffawed. “That one I’m not telling you.”

Silk pouted and the others laughed.

By then they had entered the mansion and were headed in the direction that a sign indicated was toward the medical wing. The group got a few curious looks from the staff, and the staff got some puzzled looks in return.

“What’s that six-limbed catlike creature?” Glenn asked.

“Sorry – I shouldn’t say. That’s a species that you won’t get to meet for a long time, and we should limit the amount of anachronistic information that you take back with you.”

“I understand,” Glenn replied even as he fixed an image of the creature in his mind.

They arrived at the admittance ward and turned over Blue and young Destined to the medical staff. They wheeled them away on gurneys without any questions, although there were a few curious looks at Destined, both young and old.

“In case you were wondering, I remembered the date that we came forward to, so I was prepared to meet you and had the staff ready to treat their conditions.”

“That’s handy. So what do we do now?” Pif asked.

“No amount of time that you spend here will affect anything, so you may as well rest up and take advantage of the break while the others are recovering. After all, this is still your home even if it’s centuries later.”

“Did you keep our bedroom untouched?” Citrine asked with a grin.

Destined laughed. “Sorry, no. However, it’s lunchtime – may I suggest that you take advantage of the family dining room and have a relaxing meal? As I recall, you haven’t had a chance to do so for a while.”

Citrine shrugged. “Second-best idea. Let’s go!”

There were no objections, and they soon made their way to the room. The House servants were every bit as competent and friendly in this age as in the past. Destined joined them for the meal, but Lucida noticed something odd.

“If this is the family dining room, where are the other family members?”

“My fault, I’m afraid. I asked them to stay away so that you don’t take back too much anachronistic information. I hope you underst– oh, horseapples!

A strange male hippogriff slid into the seat next to Lucida. His feathers were all the colors of the rainbow, but where those colors were located constantly shifted. He leaned over and said with a big grin, “Hi, gorgeous! What’s new with you?”

Lucida was taken aback a little and stared at him in disbelief. She turned to Destined and asked, “Who is this gaudy clown?”

 

 

Destined rolled his eyes before replying, “Lucida, may I introduce Wisebeak Path, current Lord of House Path.”

Wisebeak said, “Good to meet you, Great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandma! Can I call you Great for short?”

Lucida blinked. “Seriously?” she said incredulously.

“Better believe it, dear,” Wisebeak replied.

Destined said, “Believe it or not, Lord Wisebeak has been one of the best House leaders, being both charismatic and diplomatic. He just has a weird sense of humor. He also doesn’t pay attention to me with distressing regularity.”

“Just because you have thousands years of experience over me doesn’t mean that you’re always right,” Wisebeak replied, unabashed.

“This is very weird,” was all Lucida could think to say. “Why do your feathers change colors all the time?”

“It’s the changeling genes in me. Can’t change form worth a damn, but it makes me look fabulous!”

“It sure makes you look like something alright,” Lucida mumbled.

The others laughed or giggled at Lucida’s discomfort before they started chatting with Wisebeak. Fortunately for Destined’s peace of mind, the colorful hippogriff generally kept to safe subjects while being very entertaining at the same time. Hours passed without them noticing until a nurse turned up to update Destined on the status of the two patients.

Destined listened to what the nurse had to say and nodded, dismissing the mare. Turning to the others, he said, “My younger self has woken up. Aside from some horn-burn from which he’ll recover completely with a couple of weeks’ worth of rest, he’s quite okay, and will be able to join you for supper later. Blue is still unconscious, but his life-energy has been recharged and he’ll be fine also too with rest. His training with the dragon Seers strengthened him sufficiently to survive the overload without permanent damage.”

“That’s a relief,” Lucida said.

Destined grew serious. “Let me urge you to take full advantage of this rest break. You will encounter many challenges when you return. Nightmare Chrysalis is the greatest threat to Equus that I have known in all my life, and you have yet to see the worst she will do.”

“But we’ll win, won’t we?” Forest asked. “After all, you’re here and so is House Path.”

Destined looked at the young unicorn a little sadly. “You have been waging a time war, and you have seen how History can be changed. Even now this timeline might be altered. There is a limit to the Doctor’s capabilities, so you cannot afford to be complacent.”

Pif asked, “So have you unraveled the Doctor’s secrets?”

“Some, but not all. He is a very enigmatic pony, but at least he drops by for a chat every decade or so. Derpy always brings along a batch of my favorite muffins.”

“Derpy’s still around?” Pif asked with surprise.

“Time travel, remember,” Destined reminded her.

“Oh yeah. Any idea how old the Doctor is? Experientially speaking, of course.”

“How old? Somewhere between a hundred and a few billion years, I think.”

“What?! That’s impossible!”

Destined shrugged. “My temporal abilities have improved enormously over the centuries, and I can accurately judge anypony’s lifespan if I choose. However, I can’t do it with the Doctor. It’s like looking into infinity if I try.”

Lucida said, “Give it up, Pif. You’re never going to figure out that stallion.”

“I guess not,” Pif reluctantly agreed.

Just then, a griffon staff member entered the room and trotted over to Wisebeak. “My Lord, the Matriarch has been spotted approaching the House estate.”

“Thank you, Garrison. I’ll be out soon to meet her.”

“The Matriarch? She must be terribly old by now,” Lucida said. “Can we come with you and meet her?”

“I’d insist on it,” Wisebeak replied jovially. “She might surprise you.”

They all followed Wisebeak out of the mansion and assembled in the middle of the lawn. They didn’t have to wait before a gigantic dragon hove into sight, moving at a swift pace propelled by her massive wings. Her golden hide glistened in the light of the setting sun, and almost dazzled them as she came into a landing nearby, the wind of her back-winging nearly knocking some of them off their hooves.

The dragoness towered over them as she folded her wings. Her horns and craggy features were at odds with her friendly expression, as was her strangely familiar voice when she rumbled, “Greetings, Lord Path.”

“Welcome, Matriarch. I believe you know our visitors?”

The Matriarch smiled broadly. “It’s been a while, but yes, I do. It’s good to see you all again.”

Lucida finally recognized the voice. “Cinder?” she gasped in astonishment.

# # # # # # # # #

   
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