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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3. Chapter 2 - Proceeding to the Past

The grass was soft on her hooves.

… … …

“Where are we?”

“Far, far away from that awful place my dear. Think of it no longer.”

“Think of what no longer?”

“Hmm? Oh nothing…”

… … …

“It appears there are still some faint stars on the horizon. That band of miscreants was not able to destroy everybuggy it seems. Should we bring them to us?”

“It would be best that we did so; regroup before we can go about a plan of action.”

“Oh, there will be plenty of time for that. There are things I must teach you so that you can grow in power to rival the combined alicorn forces.”

“My Queen!”

“You’re alive! Why was it so quiet!”

“Where is everyone!?”

“I was so worried!”

“SILENCE! You are the last of a proud hive; you will not sully it by acting like hatchlings!”

… … …

“Who would have guessed – the Mad Queen likes to keep watch as her brood sleeps.”

“I... I wasn’t watching them for any of those reasons. I was trying to pick which one I was going to test the new technique you taught me on.”

“Oh… just one?”

“I wouldn’t randomly test something on all of my hive members, not when I have so few left. But you make a good point.”

“Nngghh… What is it? I’m still so tired...”

“What’s going on?!”

“What’s she doing? AAAAaaaaaAAA!”

“M-mother… It hurts…why…?”

“This power... I want it! I WANT MORE!”

“Ah, they always do.”

“Such power… I didn’t have this much even when I was harvesting the Shining Cow. No wonder it took me so long to get it under control….”

“Too bad four of your hive were not fast enough to evade you.”

“Ah, they are just passed out; that happens when they are drained of emotions. They will get up in a few hours and be exhausted but otherwise okay.”

“But Chrysalis, draining in your old way would not have given you that much power. No, my dear, you have done something far, far worse. But as you said before – whatever it takes to end them, right?”

“Hmm, so how long will it take for them to wake up? Or are they going to come back via the great circle?”

“Oh no, my dear, what you did, you drained their very essence, their very soul. Death will not come for them because there is nothing for him to reap. You have consumed their very eternity; nothing is left of them now.”

“Y-you monster!”

“I am not the monster; I just gave you a tool. You then promptly lost control and abused it. But now that this learning experience is finished, sleep for now. We will be heading east in the morning where some… fans will be helping us gather more… followers… willing to give tribute, shall we say?”

“I… I have to do that again?”

“Many, many more times, my dear. It is necessary to power what we are going to do. But as I said, rest for now.”

Four stars faded, never to be seen again. The Queen did not sleep well that night.

# # #

   

 

The journey through the vortex took longer than their first trip, although the very concept of duration when moving through time itself made Pif’s head hurt. She could hardly imagine how Destined could even begin to envisage a sixteen-dimensional pathway to their destination. The vortex itself was an ever-changing kaleidoscope of light and color as they fell helplessly through it, her mind unable to comprehend what she was seeing. Blue and Destined were ahead of her, perhaps because they were the instigators of their journey. Blue’s expression was determined, while Destined… it was difficult to say. Blank was perhaps the best description, as if his mind was elsewhere… or possibly everywhere. Pif hoped that meant that he knew what he was doing.

Abruptly they burst out of the vortex and into darkness. Blue and Destined hit the ground first, closely followed by the rest of them piling up on top of them.

“Cinder, love, please get your foot off my face,” Blue’s muffled voice came from underneath the pile.

“Oops! Sorry!” The dragoness hastily moved off the stallion.

“Why is it so dark?” Pif asked.

“My fault,” Lucida said, removing her wing from over Pif’s head and rolling onto herself upright.

That didn’t make a huge amount of difference though, and Pif realized that it was night, and all the light available came from the moon overhead. She looked around, surprised at not finding herself in the workshop still. “Where are we?”

Destined seem to come out of his dreamlike daze just then. “I displaced us spatially a little bit. I thought that it would be wise not to pop into the Doctor’s workshop unexpectedly. I can’t quite figure that stallion out, but I have a suspicion that it would be best not to cause any complications involving him.”

“And it’s night too. That’s good – nopony will have seen us arrive.” Blue commented as he struggled to his hooves. His legs wobbled and he collapsed back to the ground. “Why am I so weak?”

Destined replied, “I needed to use all your energy to make the trip back through time. Just rest for now and regain your strength.”

“But I should be able to recharge just from contact with the earth,” Blue objected.

Destined shook his head. “You didn’t have time to store enough extra energy, so I had to draw on your body’s resources too. What you need is something to eat.”

“That explains why I feel as if I’m starving. Anyone got a snack on them?”

Just then, a connection was made in Pif’s mind, and she gave a tremulous sigh of relief. “Oh, thank the stars!”

“Huh? What’s up, Pif?” Cinder asked.

“The hive-mind – it’s here and I’ve just re-joined it. You don’t know how awful it was for me to not have that connection. It’s like a piece of me was missing.”

“You didn’t have it back there… then… whatever?”

“No. Chrysalis was killed and never passed it on to Dad, so it was completely gone, and I couldn’t connect to the other hives’ networks.”

Lucida nodded in understanding. “Just be careful not to give yourself away. Remember that it’s still controlled by Chrysalis at this time.”

“I know. I resisted the impulse to send an inquiry through it. All I have is the normal background murmur, and because I’m technically a Blue Changeling, my presence is not unusual. As long as I don’t draw attention to myself, it’ll be safe.”

“So what’s our next move?” Destined asked.

Lucida replied, “Now that we aren’t running for our lives and have the luxury of time to think, we will need to make some firm plans. We need to get to the Crystal Kingdom, so that’s our first priority.”

“That’s not hard – the train will get us there,” Pif said.

“And how are we going to pay the fare? Have you got any bits on you? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t pack a pouch when I got up in Griffonia this morning… whenever… you know what I mean.”

Pif had to admit that she had not done so either. Neither did Cinder nor Destined. Who needed money when wandering around their own estate?

“I’ve got some coins stashed inside my smilodon vest,” Blue admitted. “They’re Griffonian Crowns though, so I don’t think they’re going to be much use here.”

“Then we’re going to have to get some money, and we could do with a sponsor,” Pif declared.

“Sure! Let’s walk up to the first pony we see, tell them we’re poor time-travelers, and could they spare a few bits,” Cinder said sarcastically.

Lucida grinned before turning to the north where a castle on the mountainside could be seen gleaming in the moonlight. “No, I think I have a better idea. Destined, think you can get us to Canterlot?”

“I’ve taken a couple of ponies that far before – I think I can manage four.”

“Good. Whenever you’re ready, take us to the Canterlot market.”

“Not the castle?”

“We’re trying not to draw attention to ourselves. Can you think of a worse place to appear?”

“Good point. Hang on, everybody!” Destined’s horn lit up, and they disappeared in a flash of light…

… and appeared again in a deserted marketplace.

Lucida nodded in satisfaction. “Good – I judged the hour correctly. Nopony is here at this time. How much Griffonian coin do you have, Blue?”

“It’s my stash in case I need to leave at a moment’s notice, so I have enough for a few meals plus a few extras.”

“Perfect! Now we find us a Griffish restaurant. I don’t know about everyone else, but I could do with a meal.”

Pif shuddered. “While I’m not that hungry, I think I could top up my reserves. But is having dinner really our first course of action?”

“Blue needs to eat to help replenish his strength, and I think the rest of us should have a proper meal considering what we just went through. Besides, the person I intend to approach for sponsorship will be available for quite some time as yet.”

Pif’s mouth opened in an ‘Oh’ of realization. “Do you think that’s wise?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

Pif did not right then, and she shook her head.

“Okay – if I remember correctly, the Hunter’s Feast is this way,” Lucida said, pointing up one of the streets out of the market. “It’s certified to serve non-sapient sources of meat for the griffon population. Destined – could you carry Blue? He can’t make it there by himself right now, and he would hide those wings of yours if we encounter anypony. Having a dragon in our party is going to be difficult enough to explain, but an unknown alicorn stallion would stand out way too much.”

“Sure!” Destined replied, levitating the earth pony onto a comfortable position on his back. Blue’s size currently exceeded the alicorn’s, but Destined’s own earth pony strength was enough to cope.

The group started moving in the direction that Lucida had pointed out. As they passed through the market, Cinder spotted a small tarpaulin that had been left behind, and she grabbed it.

“What’s that for?” Blue asked curiously.

Cinder grinned. “Unless you plan to eat while draped across Destined’s back, I think we need something else to hide his wings.”

“Good thinking, Cinder,” Lucida commented.

Although they had hoped to get to the restaurant without incident, they encountered a patrol of the Night Guard. It was too much to hope that they would not draw attention to themselves, and sure enough the squad moved to intercept them.

“Halt! Please identify yourselves,” the squad’s leader demanded.

Lucida stepped forward. “I am the daughter of Lord Path of Griffonia, and we’re on a diplomatic visit to Canterlot. My friends and I wished to sample some of the local cuisine, and Epiphany here has consented to show us around.”

The stallion thought about that for a moment before pointing a hoof at Blue. “And what about him?”

“He sampled too much of something else earlier,” Lucida said with a grin.

Blue gave the Guard a lopsided smile and said with a slur, “Evening, ossifer!”

The Guard rolled his eyes before turning to Cinder. “We don’t see too many dragons here, and we don’t like to get any trouble from them.”

“I am a civilized scholar,” Cinder replied coldly.

“R-i-g-h-t,” the squad commander said a little skeptically. He came to a decision. “Okay, you may all go.” He gestured to the Guards, and they continued their patrol.

“Phew!” Pif said when the Guards were out of earshot. “Thank Celestia there wasn’t a Red Changeling among them to see through my unicorn disguise.”

“How did you know that they would buy your story, Lucida?” Destined asked.

“I didn’t, but how many hippogriffs do you know? I stand out as the result of a union between a pony and a griffon, and that makes me exotic. My words fitted their preconceptions, so they believed me. They obviously don’t know that I’m still little more than a chick in this time period. Cinder is obviously not from around here, so it makes sense that she came with me. As we weren’t making trouble, they had no reason to hold us up anymore. Oh – and a nice pick-up by you, Blue. A little drunkenness just made us seem a bit more normal.”

“Glad to play a part,” Blue replied. “Now can we please hurry up and get that food?”

“We’re almost there,” Lucida replied.

A minute later, the group entered the restaurant. It was about two thirds full, and they had no trouble securing a table for five despite the dubious looks that Blue got from the griffon who seated them. As soon as the griffon left, Blue slid off Destined’s back and Cinder threw the tarpaulin over the alicorn’s back. Blue immediately grabbed the basket of bread rolls on the table and started stuffing them into his muzzle. He only paused long enough to pour some water from the jug into a glass to wash down the bread before resuming eating. The others let him eat them all, and they still lasted only a very brief time.

“Blue, could we have your coin purse?” Lucida asked when the earth pony had finished the rolls.

“Yeah – just give me a moment.” He rummaged under his vest, drew out the purse, and passed it to Lucida.

She looked inside and nodded in satisfaction. When a waiter approached and handed out menus, Lucida asked, “We wish to pay in Griffonian Crowns – will that be a problem?”

“Not at all,” the she-griff replied. “We’ve been getting many more visitors from Griffonia lately since Princess Twilight Sparkle opened up relationships with that nation, so it’s become worth our while to accept their coins. I gather that you’re visiting our country too?”

“We are, although this is hardly our first time here. It’s always nice to get home-style cooking though.”

“I’m sure you’ll find our selection to be excellent. Can I interest you in drinks first?”

“Beer,” Blue said.

“I’ll have beer too,” Cinder and Lucida both agreed.

“Have you got hard cider?” Pif asked.

When the waitress confirmed that they did, Destined asked for that also.

“And some more bread rolls!” Blue called out as the griffoness turned to leave.

For the first time, the group completely relaxed as they contemplated their menus. The waitress soon returned with their beverages and bread rolls, and she asked if they were ready to order.

“The King’s Feast, please,” Blue ordered first.

The griffoness looked at Blue dubiously. “Are you sure you want that? You do understand what is in it?”

“I do. And I want all the sides.”

The waitress blinked in surprise before nodding and writing down the order. “If a pony is going to eat meat, I suppose a big stallion like you can manage it all. Who’s next?”

“I’ll have the sirloin steak,” Destined said with a grin.

The waitress shook her head in wonder. “Two meat-eating ponies in one night. Who would have believed it?”

The orders were completed without fuss, and the waitress departed. Blue had already started on the rolls again, but the others grabbed one each for themselves before he ate them all.

“I always like to order a steak in Griffish restaurants that I’ve never been to before,” Destined said with a grin. “I love watching their reactions.”

“Obviously they don’t realize that ponies don’t eat meat more because of ingrained cultural reasons rather than because of an inability to do so.”

“It’s about the only time I ever see you do so,” Lucida commented.

“I’m not as fond of it as Dad or Blue,” Destined admitted.

“Enough about food,” Pif interrupted. “What are your plans, Lucy?”

“Simple, we visit Princess Luna’s Night Court and petition her for assistance.”

“What?! I thought we were supposed to be keeping a low profile?”

“We will be as much as possible, but we need as much support as we can get. We only have enough money to cover a good meal for all of us with just a little left over. We don’t have enough for train fare for the five of us to the Crystal Kingdom, and we certainly don’t have enough to keep us going for food and accommodation for the time that we’ll be here. I believe that Luna is our best bet.”

“But we’ll have to tell her the truth about time travelling and changes to history,” Cinder protested. “You know how hard that was when we were in Ponyville.”

“I know, but I have faith in Luna.”

“Okay, you’re the boss,” Blue declared, pretty much ending the discussion.

While Blue Streak was the oldest, Lucida was the unspoken leader of the group. As the chosen successor to the leadership of House Path, and due to her command qualities, it was her natural role, and Blue was more than happy to serve as her military commander, and Cinder as his second. Pif was always more interested in her academic studies, while Destined chose more philosophical pursuits.

The meals were all brought out in a reasonable amount of time. Their waitress hung around long enough to see for herself that the ponies were indeed eating the meat that they had been served, and she was impressed by just how fast Blue was putting away his gigantic portions. After washing it all down with a couple of tankards of beer, Blue finally leaned back in the seat and burped.

“Damn, that was the most serious case of the munchies I’ve had in my life!”

Lucida nodded in agreement. “I’ve seen you burn through lots of energy with your super speed galloping and not get that hungry. Time travel is seriously energy intensive, it seems.”

“And I still feel relatively weak. I’m going to need to digest this food and get a good rest before I do anything drastic for a while.”

“I hope you feel up to going with me to meet Luna.”

Blue looked surprised. “Why me, Lucy? I’m sure Destined would make a better argument than me.”

“Because you’re you,” the hippogriff replied enigmatically.

# # #

While Night Court officially continued for another hour, the list of supplicants for this evening had been worked through, and Luna was already contemplating what she could do with the free time. Scribe approached her to announce the final people on the docket.

“The next petitioners are Blue Streak and Lucida Path!”

Luna blinked in surprised amusement at recognizing the names. ‘I did not know their family was visiting Canterlot. I wonder what those foals are doing here this late at night? Maybe a little joke on me?’ Luna was more than a little puzzled though when two adults entered the throne room. Even more perplexing was that these adults seemed to be grown-up versions of the children that she knew so well. The hippogriff appeared to be calm and confident, however, and the earth pony had the demeanor of a warrior, albeit a strangely weary one.

Lucida stopped at the foot of the dais and bowed. She then straightened up and made firm eye contact with the Alicorn of the Night. “Your Highness, we beg a private audience of you. It is a matter of great temporal importance.”

Luna cast a keen eye on the hippogriff. “What mischief is this? I know but one Lucida Path, and she is naught but a mere child, and yet I see thou hast her colors. And this blue stallion is the spitting image of the swift colt that I know well. Thou dost speak of temporal importance? Hast thou no idea how foolish and fraught with peril that it is to meddle with time?”

Lucida stood up straight as she spoke, projecting her voice firmly; she could not match Luna’s authority, but she was making a point of being earnest. “That is why we are here. Someone has changed history with dire consequences. We have come back in time in order to prevent that change from occurring. I am indeed the Lucida Path that you know, except I’m from sixteen years in the future. To ensure that history is corrected, we need your assistance. Shall I continue?”

Luna considered the huge magic surge that she had felt mere hours ago, leaving her puzzled as to its source. Her horn lit up with an analysis spell, and she scanned the pair of them, detecting eddies of the time magic still echoing in them. In doing so, she also verified that this Lucida and Blue Streak were indeed the very same hippogriff and pony that she knew. She frowned in deep concern. “Guards – leave us and seal the throne room. There will be no more audiences tonight. Speak naught of that which you have just seen and heard. Scribe – delete this meeting from the records and depart also.”

Scribe bowed and said, “As you command, Your Highness.” She then left with the guards.

When the doors closed and they were alone, Luna turned her attention back to Lucida. “So, thou art truly little Lucida all grown up. And Blue Streak is now a mighty stallion, but why art thou so weary?”

“It comes of being the energy source for our time jump, Princess,” Blue replied respectfully as he realized that Luna was not yet the family member that she was fated to become if history was restored.

“I see. How didst thou avoid the change to the timeline?”

Lucida replied, “As you already realize the possible consequences of interfering with the timeline, I will tell you the absolute minimum that I can, but you will still learn things you should not. No matter how horrible, I need you to not act on the information that I am about to release until the proper time.”

Luna frowned. “I cannot make that guarantee without hearing what thou hast to say, but I am not unaware of the dire possibilities of paradox and time-alteration. Tell me that which thou can, and I shall listen.”

Lucida cleared her throat while she considered her words carefully. “In a few days, there will be a full-scale mobilization for war. Lord Long Path and his House will unify the combined Crystal, Equestrian, and Griffonian forces, and even New World Thestrals and Red Changelings against a common evil – Queen Chrysalis. In the battle that will be known as the Siege of the Crystal Kingdom, many lives will be lost, but the mad queen will ultimately be defeated by House Path. As a consequence, the House will be propelled into prominence, bringing an unprecedented era of peace and cooperation. At least that is how it should happen. Something will occur during that battle that will change that history, and the opposite will happen. We were taken out of the time-stream before the changes could affect us though. I’m sorry, but I cannot reveal how; that is non-vital information.”

“Dost thou seek to prevent this battle then?”

Lucida shakes her head. “No, that is how history is supposed to play out, but since the interloper intervened, the damage that was caused was great. I can tell you this next part because if we do our jobs correctly, it will never come to be.” Lucida sighed and swallowed a growing lump in her throat. “The final attack that the herd launches that should defeat Chrysalis, instead fails. As a result, my father dies, as does my mother and Free Agent. The shield protecting the Crystal City is overcome, and the resulting strain is too great for Shining Armor to cope with, and he suffers an aneurysm, leaving him effectively brain dead. With all the forces overwhelmed, and all those nearest and dearest to her killed, Twilight’s mind snaps. I won’t go into the details, but by the end of the day, the Crystal Kingdom is destroyed and Twilight turns against Celestia and yourself for your failure to protect her family and all the others who lost their lives in the invasion. She allies with Cadance to take control of Equestria and begins a tyrannical purge of all changelings while imposing martial law on all citizens. We intend to make sure this doesn’t happen, but we need things from you to make sure of it.”

Luna was shocked. “Twilight Sparkle doth turn against us? How fearsome must be her loss and grief. This must not come to pass! What service must I provide that the course of events be undisturbed?”

“We request immediate discreet transport to the Crystal Kingdom, and the funds needed to feed and accommodate five of us for several days. I cannot disclose the identities of the other three as they have yet to be born at this time. We also ask that you cooperate with House Path as much as possible when they call. They will have a plan that will eventually succeed if history proceeds as it should. It is up to us to ensure that it does, and we will be looking for the source of the temporal interference.”

Luna was deep in thought for a long moment before she replied. “It is right that thou dost not tell me too much. The path of time can proceed as it should with what thou hast revealed to me so far, but there might be problems if I learn too much. Thy request for transport will be honored. I will assign a discreet servant to attend your needs, but tell them naught of what you do. I will also persuade my sister to listen to Lord Path’s requests and suggestions. Beyond this, I cannot do more without also becoming a potential paradox in the time-stream. Tell me where you are staying, and I will send my agent to meet you there.”

“Hotel Astrid, suite 401,” Lucida replied, relieved that they would actually be able to pay the bill.

“This audience is at an end. We must all prepare for what is to come.” Luna paused as her expression softened. “I am pleased to see that thou dost grow to be a beautiful and competent adult who doth do credit to thy House. I look forward to watching thee grow up, my dear Lucida.”

Lucida returned Luna’s smile. “Same here, Auntie Luna.” She then turned and left the throne room with Blue Streak.

Luna watched them leave and then shook her head and sighed. “Who art thou, our terrible enemy who wouldst meddle so capriciously with time itself? And if e'er I find out, dare I tell Lucida and risk yet more disruption to time? There can be no good to come of this.” She got up from her throne and made her way out of the room. There was much to get done before this night was ended. If nothing else, she could at least command a report on the disposition of Equestria’s military forces so that when the call came, she would be prepared.

# # #

Destined finished levitating the last of their luggage onto the rack in the train compartment that he was sharing with Blue. While Cinder had wanted to share a berth with her mate, she had reluctantly conceded that he needed to keep building up his strength, something he was not likely to do as effectively if they engaged in their usual nightly activities. Although Blue had gotten a good sleep after he and Lucida had returned to the hotel and he could now walk about normally, he knew he was far from being able to use his full super speed as yet. While Pif and Lucida shared a compartment, the dragoness had gotten one of her own, plus a warning from the conductor that she would be charged for any fire damage incurred. Ruefully, Cinder had to admit that it was probably a good idea that she and Blue stayed separate on this long journey.

Luna had been as good as her word, and her agent had supplied them with the money and equipment that they had requested of him which they thought might be needed for their upcoming task. Destined had been provided with a proper cloak to hide his wings so that he could easily pass as a unicorn. They all carried papers from Luna in case they needed to approach the authorities to show that they were on a royal assignment.

The overnight train to the Crystal Kingdom was the most convenient way to get there short of teleportation by one of the princesses, but as that conspicuous display of powerful magic might attract unwanted attention, it had been dismissed as an alternative very quickly. Train travel with sleeper compartments was also very restful, so they all anticipated being in top form by the time they arrived, with the exception of Blue. Unfortunately, that was the big drawback for the earth pony. Like all his kind, he drew strength from the earth, but he was out of contact while in the train carriage. The only other way that he could build up strength was by eating, and he made a beeline for the dining car.

None of them had ever visited the Crystal City before by train, and the view was enjoyable until night fell. They all had an early night, and they breakfasted as the sun rose the next day. They watched as the snowy scenery abruptly changed to verdant fields, and they realized that they had entered the outskirts of the Crystal Kingdom.

“We’ll soon be coming to the place where Papa Free and Mama Twilight stopped Chrysalis’ first attempt at invading the Kingdom, won’t we?” Blue asked.

“Yeah,” Destined confirmed. “I wouldn’t mind having a look around, but we have a job to do.”

The train’s whistle blew, signalling that it was bypassing the siding which serviced the security checkpoint. Lucida’s eyes widened in shock as she realized something they had all forgotten. “Destined! Grab Pif and teleport out of the train NOW!

Destined was surprised, but barely hesitated. He threw a hoof around his sister and they blinked out with a small bang.

 

 

“What the hay was that all about, Lucy?” Blue demanded.

“The changeling shield! If Pif had stayed on the train, she would have been splattered as we passed through it.”

“Oh, buck! I forgot all about that. We’ve never had to worry about it before.”

“Why didn’t you just tell Pif to teleport herself?” Cinder asked.

“She’s nowhere near as fast as Des, and she can only do it about once a day. Hopefully they’ll figure out what the problem was and rejoin us. Teleportation bypasses the shield, which makes it fortunate that Pif is the only changeling who can do that.”

“Papa Free did it,” Blue pointed out.

“But only while in gestalt with Mama Twilight,” Lucida reminded him. “He used her power to do it.”

Just then, Destined and a very shaken Pif teleported back onto the train.

“Sweet Celestia, that was a near thing,” Pif said as she slumped onto the cushion of the nearest seat. “Thanks, Lucy.”

Lucida nodded in acknowledgement. “Good work, Destined. Everyone – let this be a reminder that we are out of our time, and things aren’t always going to meet our expectations, so be alert for problems. Pif, make sure you have your love absorption under control.”

Pif rolled her eyes. “Just like all the other times I’ve visited the Crystal Kingdom.” Free had taught his daughter that trick as soon as she was capable so they didn’t have to worry about her when visiting family.

The incident sobered them all, and they talked very little until they arrived at the station in the Crystal City.

Oddly enough, it was Lucida who drew the more stares. It seemed that dragons were unusually popular in that city due to Spike’s influence upon the citizens. Griffons – or hippogriffs in this case – were a much rarer sight. Lucida wasted no time in hanging around and letting them memorize her looks though, nor did she want Pif exposed for any longer than was strictly necessary. This was no place for a changeling to be caught right now.

“Blue – take us near where the final battle takes place,” she said quietly to him. “We’ll try to find some sort of accommodation there and settle in for observation.”

Blue nodded and trotted off down one of the streets leading from the station. He had revisited the city many times since, and was fairly familiar with the layout. He eventually drew up outside an inn that looked like it catered to the tourist trade. “How about this place? I think this is pretty close.”

Lucida looked it over. “Looks good to me. Do you know if it gets wrecked in the battle?”

Blue frowned in thought. “Umm… I don’t think so, but things looked a lot different before the battle. We arrived when it had already been going for a few hours, and a lot more damage was done later. It’s been too long for me to remember even half of what was destroyed.”

“I think I can help with that,” Destined said. “I know a meditation technique that can reveal buried memories.”

Lucida held up a wing. “It can wait. We’ll check in here for now. If we need to, we can move to a more secure place later.”

They went inside, and despite the proprietor’s surprise at some of the guests, they had no trouble getting a couple of rooms. This time Cinder firmly insisted on one shared with Blue. They all gathered though in the other room which Lucida shared with her siblings.”

“Okay, what now, boss?” Blue asked Lucida.

“First – let’s try out Destined’s idea for getting your memories of the destruction.”

Blue shrugged and turned to Destined. “So how do we do this?”

“Ideally I would train you in meditation techniques, but we don’t have the luxury of the months it would take for you to reach that level, so I’m going to cheat with a hypnosis spell. That will put you into a state of receptivity that I can use to draw out your memories. All you have to do is look into my eyes and relax. Look into my eyes… and… relax.” His horn glowed softly as Blue’s eyes slowly closed. “Relax… and remember.”

Blue opened his eyes to find himself standing in a formless void shared only with Destined. “Whoa! This is a bit like one of Luna’s dreamscapes.”

“It’s a similar principal, but you’ll be supplying the details. All I need you to do is picture this inn, and I’ll draw the memories from your subconscious starting from there. Is that okay with you?”

Blue smirked. “If I can’t trust my little brother, who can I trust?”

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Destined replied with a smile.

A miniature image of the inn appeared between them, and then the surrounding structures started to appear. Details appeared on them as seen from Blue’s perspective both on the ground and from when he was observing from the Sky Shark, while the rest remained blurrily indistinct. A very large portion of the south-eastern side of the city with some of the rest was mapped out in three dimensions before Destined sighed and said, “That’s everything that I can pull from your memories, Blue. You can relax now.”

“Huh – I’m impressed. I didn’t realize that I remembered so much.”

“Most stuff we learn gets overlayed by stronger and more recent memories. Meditation is the preferred way of reaching them because then you can access them again at will. Doing it this way, you'll be back to the way you were before I started this session, and you're going to be surprised all over again.”

“Maybe I should take a few lessons from you then?”

Destined smirked. “Like I've been trying to get you to do with me for years?”

Blue chuckled. “Ah, yeah. I sorta had different priorities.”

“I’ll remind you later. Right now we have to get back to the others, so wake up!

Blue blinked, and suddenly he was back in the room with everyone else looking at them expectantly.

“So… how did it go?” Lucida asked.

Blue tried to recall the session, and realized that it was already becoming fuzzy in his mind. “Good… I think.”

Destined nodded. “I got what we needed. Clear a space and I’ll project a map.”

Everyone crowded aside to leave the maximum amount of space between them. Destined’s horn glowed, and a replica of the map that he and Blue had built appeared in amazing detail.

Lucida gave it a satisfied smile. “This is perfect. Okay, let’s go over what we know about the battle and choose some suitable observation points. Then we can scout around and check them out as they are now to make sure they are still suitable. We’ve only got a couple of days to get this right, and then the hard part begins.”

# # #

Waiting was the hardest part. It did not take them too much time to scout out their preferred observation posts, and that left them with time on their hooves and claws. Blue used it to concentrate on bringing himself back to full strength, and they all did martial training sessions together. While it was their intention to stay out of the coming battle if possible, they needed to be prepared for those plans to be thrown out at a moment’s notice. After all, it was an unknown quantity that had changed history, and as such it could not be accounted for. On the fourth day after they had arrived in the Crystal Kingdom, so did several battalions of the Equestrian Army, and the word started spreading that Princess Cadance had ordered all civilians to evacuate to the castle. At this point, the five of them split up to take their hidden vantage points. Lucida paired off with Blue, and Cinder with Pif, while Destined headed off to the castle to observe what happened there. Cinder had wanted to remain with Blue, but Lucida had decided that these pairings were the best combination of their strengths.

Even though they were all familiar with what happened that day, to witness it unfolding before their eyes was another thing entirely, and all of them struggled to restrain themselves from interfering even as they saw allies cut down by the indifferent enemy. Events played out as expected for a long time. Chrysalis’ swarm was initially repulsed by Cadance and Shining’s love-powered blasts, and they spotted the rainbow beams of Harmony, but as they knew would happen, it did not deter the changelings. Pif had very cautiously monitored the Blues’ hive-mind, remaining on the fringes to remain unnoticed, but sensitive enough to read the instructions passed to the swarm.

Blue Streak and Lucida had taken a spot under an awning on the rooftop of their accommodation. Amazingly it had remained mostly unscathed in the original battle, and it was very convenient. It also had an excellent view of where Path, Twilight, and Roseclaw were preparing their trap. Despite knowing exactly how that would turn out, Lucida still cried as she watched her father being battered by Chrysalis after the entrapment failed. She forgot, however, that this was also the time that Blue first broke the sound barrier in defense of Path’s life, and was startled by the sonic boom.

“Whoa! That was awesome, Blue.”

Blue Streak nodded grimly. “Thanks. I’m just sorry I didn't manage to kill the bitch then.”

“If you had, things might have turned out a lot differently. For starters, Des and Flix might never have been born. This is when the herd first formed a gestalt, remember?”

“I do. I bet you still want to go out there and kill Chrysalis right now though, just like me.”

Lucida nodded. “And that’s why I’m here to stop you if that urge gets too overwhelming.”

In spite of her fears, Blue’s discipline held firm as they watched the battle continue. They saw Free arrive in his alicorn guise and take up the fight with Chrysalis, and still nothing had changed that they were aware of. Lucida was beginning to worry that they had missed something important.

Pif was wondering the same thing. She and Cinder were holed up in a shop that was just outside the shield covering the city. History had shown that it had come through the battle unscathed, and while they did not have the broad view that Lucida and Blue had, they were a lot closer to the later fight between Chrysalis and Free. Cinder was carving long furrows in the timber of the window frame with her talons as she tensed repeatedly during the confrontation. Pif strained her senses mightily to try to get a hint of what was taking place, and still nothing unexpected happened. They witnessed Twilight huddled with Roseclaw around Path as they started to glow with the immense power that they were channeling through the earth pony to Free. Pif felt tense enough to snap as she realized that the winning blow was about to be dealt. Free was accumulating the energy being sent to him as Chrysalis cautiously prepared a defense. Suddenly Free disappeared.

Chrysalis – behind you!

Pif nearly jumped out of her skin as that message thundered over the hive-mind. She watched as Chrysalis whirled around to see Free reappear behind her, and she hastily threw up a shield even as she tried to dodge. Free’s power was unleashed in a mighty blast, but it failed to connect. Instead it was deflected by Chrysalis’ shield and hurtled almost directly at where Pif and Cinder watched in horror. The shop exploded around them just from being grazed, but the majority of the power slammed into the city’s shield. It shuddered and flickered.

Inside the castle, Destined had been watching Shining Armor. The unicorn seemed to be barely coping despite the reinforcement from the Avatars of Harmony. He was already wavering on his hooves in spite of what his Auntie Cadance had told them of how he had stood firm until Chrysalis was defeated. Destined suddenly felt a gigantic impact on the shield and watched in shock as Shining Armor screamed, swayed on his hooves for a few long moments, and then collapsed. The Avatars fell apart, and the shield soon collapsed. Changelings started to pour into the city as Cadance rushed to her husband’s side. Royal Guards hastened to surround them all to defend against the oncoming horde, and Destined knew that his aunt would survive. He was surprised though when he saw Shining start to struggle upright again despite pleas from his wife to let the Guards defend them.

Then Chrysalis flew in. She took out the Guards with very little effort, and then with a triumphant cry, she headed for Crystal Heart, only to bounce off a shield that abruptly enveloped it. The changeling queen’s eyes shot over to where Shining Armor lay, his horn glowing once more, but this time crossed with Cadance’s.

“Fools! Do you think you can stop me when I’m this close to winning it all?” Chrysalis unleashed a mighty beam of magic which slammed into the shield, eliciting another pained cry from Shining Armor, but he held firm with his wife’s assistance.

Chrysalis stepped up the attack, profligate with her power because she was drawing love energy at a prodigious rate from the Heart to replace it.

“No!” Cadance yelled, “You’ll destroy the Crystal Heart!”

Chrysalis was oblivious, however. She would win, whatever it took.

Destined could not tell if the Heart shattered first, or Shining Armor succumbed to his aneurysm, but abruptly the shield was gone, and the Crystal Heart lay in half-melted pieces on the floor. Cadance, who had still been connected with Shining, screamed and collapsed on top of him, rendered unconscious.

Chrysalis realized that the Heart was useless, and she started cursing. She cut it off abruptly and raised a shield just in time to block a blast from Twilight Sparkle whose emotional state glowed like a beacon to the changeling. Chrysalis snarled, enraged by her failure to take the Crystal Heart, and being constantly hounded by the alicorn. Without the Heart to re-supply her with energy, she had to try a different tack. She unleashed a blast at Twilight who naturally raised a shield against it, only to have it pass through virtually unhindered. Before she had time to think, it struck and wreaked its havoc on her.

Destined shuddered at not only the sight of what was happening to his mother, but what he could feel it doing to her. He was mildly empathic, and he could tell that Twilight had been subjected to a concentrated form of energy derived from hate, fear, despair, suspicion, and many other dark emotions which could not be blocked by a shield designed to stop mana blasts. Twilight’s howl of pain and terror made him weep as he watched her drop to the floor.

Chrysalis threw back her head and laughed maniacally. She had finally beaten the alicorn with a weapon that only a changeling queen could wield, and only another changeling queen could defend against. Her enemy was as good as helpless.

Destined’s eyes opened wide as he noticed that Twilight was far from beaten. Her entire form started to glow brighter and brighter, and she looked up at Chrysalis with utter hate and loathing. Destined suddenly realized that this had to be the true cause of Twilight’s insanity, and not just grief from the loss of her loved ones. It was also going to be Chrysalis’ downfall. Twilight, despite all the fighting that she had done, was ultimately still the Princess of Friendship, and there was always something restraining her from cutting loose without any compunction as to the consequences. Chrysalis had unwittingly released all those limitations on the Avatar of Magic.

Twilight screamed incoherently and her hide and mane burst into eldritch fire, the shock-wave scattering the ponies far from the alicorn, and ironically saving them from what happened next. Twilight unleashed a blast of magic that dwarfed any that she had utilized at this battle. Not since her fight with Tirek had so much power flowed through her, but this time it was all hers. Chrysalis was vaporized instantly, and so were half the supports of the castle. Miraculously it did not collapse. Twilight then flew away, unleashing her fury on all the changelings despite the fact that they had ceased hostilities the moment that their queen had died.

Destined had seen enough. He knew what would happen from this point of the altered history, and he had no wish to witness any more. He teleported back to join Lucida and Path.

“What happened?” Destined cried the moment he arrived.

“We don’t know exactly,” Blue answered as Pif continued to watch Twilight through her binoculars. “One moment, everything was going exactly as expected, and then just as Free did his teleport, Chrysalis turned around and deflected the winning strike. Free was depleted and still trying to fight…”

“Free's dead,” Lucida interrupted grimly, putting down the binoculars. “Chrysalis dealt the coup de grace before she turned on the others. I watched Dad die, and without the support of Free, Twilight, and the medics, he never was revived. Mom attacked Chrysalis, trying to take revenge over Dad’s death, but she was quickly struck down out of the sky, and the changeling bitch then headed to the castle. Mama Twilight took off after her when she recovered sufficiently. I think you know better what happened after that.”

“I do,” Destined replied, “and I have some important new facts.”

“They’ll have to wait; It’s time to get out of here,” Lucida decided. “Let’s join up with Cinder and Pif before things get completely out of claw. Des – be prepared to time-jump as soon as we’re together again.”

Destined teleported them all over to where the changeling and dragon had hidden their selves, only to be confronted by a pile of rubble.

Lucida gasped. “Sweet Celestia! We forgot to take into account what buildings might be destroyed in the alternate future. Pif! Cinder! Can you hear me?!”

The three didn’t wait for an answer, beginning to dig their way into the wreckage of the shop using a combination of strength and magic. They had managed to clear away a heavy beam when the rubble started stirring in one spot. It heaved upwards, debris falling off to the side, revealing a golden dragon’s back, wings slightly spread to protect the person underneath her. With a defiant roar, Cinder stood up, clearing the remainder of the detritus, and Pif stumbled out unharmed.

“Cinder! Thank heavens you're alive,” Blue cried as he made his way over to the dragoness. “Are you and Pif okay?”

Pif replied, “I’m okay. Cinder’s quick thinking saved me.”

Cinder wrapped the blue pony in a fierce hug. “Cuts and bruises, but I’m too tough to be hurt that easily. I was just stuck until you got something heavy off of me.”

“I’m happy that you're both okay, but we have to get out of here now!” Lucida said urgently.

An explosion nearby emphasized her words, and they all turned to see Twilight burning with more power than ever, streaking around the city and laying waste to allies and enemy alike with no regard to the homes and shops that were being destroyed at the same time. Her glowing form was starkly contrasted by the dark clouds that even now were encroaching on the kingdom, no longer held back by Crystal Heart.

Destined stared in horror at his mother, appalled by what he was seeing. He already knew that this would occur, but to see it actually happen before his eyes was extremely disturbing. He was only torn away from the view when Blue Streak physically picked him up and turned him away.

“Snap out of it, Destined! We have to get out of here!” Blue yelled at the alicorn.

Destined shook his head to try to get the images out of his head and clear his mind. He reached out for Blue’s power as the five huddled together, and a moment later a vortex formed beneath them and they slipped out of time and space.

It was not quite the close shave that their escape from the first time-change had been. This time they left a whole seventeen seconds before the former shop was reduced to slag.

# # #

Five bodies fell out of thin air into a pile on a hillside overlooking the Crystal City. There were various grunts and curses as they piled on top of one another before pulling apart from the others.

“This is getting real old, real fast,” Blue grumbled.

Lucida ruffled her feathers before settling her wings back into place. “Not the most dignified way of travelling, I agree, but that’s not important now.” She turned to Epiphany. “Please tell me that you discovered something, Pif. We saw nothing out of the ordinary.”

The changeling nodded. “You wouldn't have seen anything, because the critical change was a warning to Chrysalis that came through the hive-mind. Actually more like screamed through it. Someone or something yelled out ‘Chrysalis – behind you!’ and foiled Free’s surprise attack. That’s all it took to change the outcome of this battle.”

“But who and how?” Destined asked.

Pif shrugged. “I couldn't tell.”

“Buck!” Lucida cursed. “Okay, we don’t know who our enemy is, but at least we now know the critical change. Des – when are we?”

“I took us back two days as planned,” Destined replied.

“Good. Time for us to get alternate accommodation and make new plans. Somehow, we have to figure out a way of counteracting that warning so that Free wins the fight with Chrysalis.”

They started heading towards the city again, all of them wondering how on Equus they were going to do that.

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

You don't know how hard it is to go back over your past story without screwing up some details!

Thanks again to my pre-reader, Jeff

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a Foxena. Vortex background animated by me.

   
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