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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4. Chapter 3 - History Rewrites

“Why have you brought us to this desolate place?”

“The Zebrican plains are hardly desolate, my dear.”

“That did not answer my question.”

“I have given you the power to enact your revenge, but now we need the means. We shall find that here.”

“In a dirty hut?”

“Exactly.”

“Who’s the old geezer?”

“Your words you should choose with greater care, lest I have no time for the nightmare.”

“Oh great – a rhyming idiot. Wait! How did he know what I was saying?”

“Knowledge is the means by which deeds are hung. Ask instead how I know your tongue.”

“You use mind speech! You're not a changeling, so how is that possible?”

“You prattle needlessly upon things you need not see. You and I instead must conspire to bring our mutual foes a fate most dire.”

Now you’re talking my language!”

# # #

“How are you feeling, Blue?” Cinder asked with a tinge of concern.

“Just a little tired. That small time-jump used very little energy compared to the first one.”

“Well, you can rest and recharge as soon as we get to our rooms. I’ll even give you a massage if you like?” the dragoness added coyly.

Blue just grinned, knowing exactly what one of her massages always led to.

The five time-adventurers passed through the outskirts of the Crystal City and Lucida started leading them away from the inn where they had been staying.

“Why do you want to find alternative accommodation, Lucida?” Destined asked. “What’s wrong with the inn? The rooms are already paid for, and we’re all settled in there.”

Lucida stopped and stared at the alicorn. “What about paradox? We can’t be meeting ourselves there!”

“Is that all? Paradox doesn’t work quite the way that you think it does. If it did, Pif and I wouldn’t be here right now.”

“I thought the Doctor did something to keep you here?” Lucida replied with a puzzled frown.

“He isolated us all from the changes to history – still trying to figure out how he did that. Otherwise none of us would be here. The paradox that you’re thinking of doesn’t exist though.”

Lucida sighed in resignation. “Explain to us in words that we can all understand, then.”

Destined gulped. It had taken him a lot of time and study to grasp the basic nature of space-time enough to be able to navigate their time-jumps. The only pony who approached his understanding of the subject was Luna, and perhaps Celestia. And then there was the Doctor…. He tried to frame it in the most simplistic of terms. “I’ve mentioned the sixteen dimensional nature of space-time, right?”

“Yeah, and don’t even think of inflicting the name for it on us again,” griped Blue.

“OK, but it’s important to understand that it encompasses every possible event in time and space. Every event has a probability of coming into being as a result of the probability of other events coming into being and all of those depend on their previous events, and so forth.”

“I already have a headache trying to picture that,” Cinder commented.

Lucida nodded in agreement. “Keep going.”

“Well, what we call history is actually the transition from one event to another along the path of highest probability. If someone like our unknown foe goes back along that path and changes the probability of an event, then the path changes, and history as we know it changes with it. However, it is important to remember that those events have not gone away – they have merely been reduced in probability.”

“Which is why we’re here trying to change things back to exactly the way things were,” Blue said.

Destined shook his head. “That won’t happen, at least not exactly.”

“What?!” Lucida exclaimed. “Are you saying we can’t fix this?”

“No, I’m saying that we can’t fix this to be exactly the way things were. Changes have occurred that have altered the course of history, but while we can get it back to mostly what we know of history, it will still be a different course of history. For example, we know what caused the change in history to alter the outcome of the fight between Papa Free and Chrysalis, but we don’t know how to prevent it, so we’re intending to nullify that change instead. That will be part of the new history in spite of everything else working out to be the same.”

“So how does that affect us and meeting ourselves at the inn?” Lucida asked.

“Because we’re now on a different path through space-time. Paradox can’t exist because that group of us is now on a different path than the one we’re on now. We’ve altered probability merely by coming back here to this moment.”

“But I clearly remember our entire stay there!” Lucida protested.

Destined shrugged. “And we all clearly remember what our lives were like before history was changed. Essentially it’s no different.”

“My head hurts,” Cinder complained.

Blue gave her a consoling hug. “Mine too, love. That’s why I usually leave the thinking to Destined and Pif.”

“But… we saw young Blue at the same time!” Lucida objected.

“We’ve looped back through time so that we see him. We’ve altered that loop so that we won’t see ourselves,” Destined tried to explain. “If we did meet ourselves, that would change the probability of events in a paradoxical manner, and I’ve already explained that paradox can’t happen. We simply would not end up in this situation. Sorry, I can’t make it clearer.”

Lucida dithered for a moment before she sighed. “Okay, let’s try the inn. If we meet ourselves there though, I’m never going to let you live this down, Des.”

They made their way to the inn, but just as Destined had predicted, nothing odd happened, unless you counted the fact that the innkeeper found nothing unusual about the five of them coming in despite not having seen any of them leave. They settled into the one bigger room as they had previously done to plan.

“Okay, has anyone thought of anything yet to counteract the warning that caused Free’s attack to fail?”

“I don’t think we can,” Pif replied. “Even though I know it will come, I can’t stop it, and Dad’s not linked to the hive-mind, so I can’t warn him similarly.”

“And if we try to warn your parents in advance, they’ll think we’re crazy,” Cinder lamented.

“Not if it’s Blue who tells them,” Lucida suggested.

“Bad idea,” Destined replied. “That big an alteration to probability would surely have repercussions of its own.”

“Would they be bad repercussions though?” Pif asked. “If Blue warned them what would happen if things continued as they are, but let them know the finishing move that would win the day, they could use it earlier before Dad got burned out and almost killed. The war would be won and Dad might still have his earth pony magic!” she explained earnestly.

“That’s a good point,” Blue agreed.

Destined shook his head. “I hate to be a downer, but you’re only hoping that might be the result. You have to realize that anything big like that could just as easily blow up in our faces. Look at it this way – it was a tiny change that radically altered history. One well-timed warning changed everything. Think what could happen from a major intervention!”

“How can you be sure that it would go bad though?” Pif objected.

“I can’t; that’s the point. None of us can know for sure what the consequences of any of our actions might be, so that’s why we’re all trying to cause as little interference as possible.”

“Sooner or later, we’re going to have to act in some way, and that will have consequences. Otherwise there’s no point to us being here,” Lucida argued.

“Yes, I know – there’s no getting around that. However, it’s better to react to a known event than to create a new one with unknown results.”

Lucida sighed in resignation. “So we’re back to square one – any ideas?”

“Well, I can’t warn Dad because I’m not linked with him here,” Pif began, “but I reckon I might be able to affect Chrysalis through the mind-link.”

Blue spoke up. “Cinder and I had a good view of what happened. I saw Chrysalis jerk in response to something which I now know was that message over the hive-mind, so naturally I couldn’t detect it. Two things happened then – she threw up a shield and she also dodged to one side. That’s why Papa Free’s attack hit a glancing blow that was deflected in our direction. We not only have to counteract that shield, but also compensate for that movement.”

Pif nodded. “I’ve been deep into Chrysalis’ hive-mind before, or if you want to be pedantic I will be in the future, so I know what it’s like. I think I know what I can do about the shield.”

“And the movement?” Lucida prompted.

Pif shrugged. “Not a clue, sorry.”

“Blue?” Lucida looked at him hopefully.

“From where we were observing, we had a great view, but were a bit too far from the action to affect it. Perhaps if we got in close enough, we could do something about that?”

“It would be a lot more dangerous too. There was plenty of magic being thrown around there, not to mention all the changeling drones that were acting as a shield around Chrysalis to prevent interference from others. They were enough to drive off even Celestia.”

“Do we have another choice?” Blue asked bluntly.

There was only silence from Lucida that was matched by all the others. Eventually Lucida nodded. “Barring coming up with an alternative before the event, that’s what we’ll do then. We’ll scout out a suitable place to work from and improvise from there. I wish that I could be more specific, but that’s all I can think of for now.”

“If it fails, we can always go back and try again a different way,” Destined pointed out.

“Going through all that twice will be bad enough. I don’t want to do it a third time.”

That was something that they all could agree on.

# # #

The waiting was difficult. They all knew exactly what was going to happen and when, and there was no hastening those events. It didn’t stop them from feeling tense and worked up about it. Cinder and Blue retired to their room after the meeting, and distracted each other with some physical intimacy. Cinder gave Blue the promised massage, her talons delicately stimulating pressure points on his body, relaxing him nicely. Then he returned the favor, only his massages were far from delicate. His hooves ground into the tough dragon hide and kneaded her tense muscles, making her groan in pleasure. By the end of their mutual rubbing and stroking, they were considerably aroused, and they took care of that too.

Epiphany had a different way to relax. She propped herself in a corner and assumed her full natural form. She then turned down the block on the ambient love to allow a steady trickle of the emotional energy to feed her. She luxuriated in the pleasure of the positive energy filling her, feeling the tension melt away.

Destined resorted to his old stand-by and meditated. He considered the nature of time and their situation, seeking any possible alternatives that might be advantageous. Not only was it a worthwhile effort, it was also a good way for him to find relaxation.

Only Lucida could not find a way to be at ease. She felt the burden of responsibility for leading the group, and the pressure to get history right again. She went over and over what they had learned from their previous scouting trips, trying to come up with viable plans that did not have their own perils attached. The one thing that kept her from complete frustration was that at worst, they could go back and try again and again until they got it right.

# # #

Lucida decided on making a base at a bar that was located roughly halfway between the decisive fight and where Long Path, Twilight Sparkle, and Roseclaw were situated. There were very few other public buildings in that area, and none where they were justified in loitering around. They all sat around drinking the mildest of alcoholic drinks while waiting for the evacuation orders to come through, and then they concealed themselves until everypony was gone. They settled themselves in for the wait until the first of the defenders started to pour into the city.

The bar was an upscale affair with two levels – the upper horseshoe shaped balcony open to the lower. They located themselves beside windows on the upper level which afforded them the best view. Although they could not see the actual train station from there, they could spot the train approaching from the distance with the first load of soldiers from the Equestrian Army. A contingent of Royal Guards had beaten them there though, teleported in along with Princess Luna who was coordinating the defense effort.

“You know that they could not have gotten this many troops to the Crystal City this quickly without having them ready to depart on the train virtually from the moment that they got the word from House Path,” Blue remarked. “There are only so many that even the princesses can teleport here.”

Lucida nodded. “Undoubtedly Luna found pretexts to move them to convenient locations for rapid transport.”

“Doesn’t that mean that we’ve already affected history?”

“Quite right,” Destined replied.

“What about before all this history-changing craziness? Were they as prepared then?” Blue asked.

Destined shook his head. “Not relevant. As far as history is concerned, we always have done so.”

“Ugh! There’s that headache again.”

Pif looked thoughtful. “If no matter what we do becomes a history as it has always been insofar as everypony else is concerned, is there also such a thing as destiny where things inevitably happen in spite of what we do?”

Destined considered the question. “Well, if you define destiny as the sequence of space-time events that are of the highest probability to become history, then yes.”

Cinder groaned. “Would you please stop with this stuff! I think you’re going to make my head explode.”

“Sorry,” Destined said with a sympathetic smile. “It’s kind of my thing though.”

“Says the pony with a thought-bubble cutie mark and the name of Destined Path,” Cinder grumbled.

“That’s always made me wonder,” Pif remarked. “Why did our parents name you that?”

“Beats me,” Destined admitted. “There’s still a lot that I’ve barely touched on. There are more forces at work in the universe than just those determining space and time. For example, the power of Harmony seems to supersede most other physical laws, and the princesses’ role as its agents in bringing about a balance seems to indicate divine intercession, despite Auntie Luna’s protests that she’s not a god.”

“Didn’t she also say that all alicorns are agents of Harmony, which means you too?” Pif asked slyly.

Destined’s ears flattened in embarrassment. “I’m definitely no god!”

“Nah, just a Prince of Equestria,” Blue said, unable to resist having a dig at his younger brother.

Destined’s cheeks were beginning to glow almost as red as his mane. “I was just a foal then. Besides, I asked Auntie Celestia to rescind the title later, but she wouldn’t. ‘Once a Prince or Princess of Equestria, always a Prince or Princess, she told me.”

“Sure sounds like Destiny to me!” Blue chortled.

Destined pouted and gave up. Silence settled in again for a while.

“I just had an idea,” Cinder suddenly spoke up.

“Out with it!” Lucida ordered.

“Well… if Pif is connected to the hive-mind all the time, why can’t she send a series of false messages during her fight with Free, so when the real warning comes, she could ignore it?”

“Cry wolf!?” Lucida replied. “That sounds like an intriguing possibility. What about it, Pif?” She looked at the changeling unicorn expectantly.

Pif considered it for a moment before replying. “In principle, it sounds good. However, that one warning was short, unexpected, and Chrysalis had no need to follow up on it. If I was to send out a series of false alarms, Chrysalis could and probably would trace them back to me, and we would have a heap of trouble. There’s also the matter of ‘voice’. My voice in the hive-mind is different, and Chrysalis might notice something odd. Then there are all the changes we would make in the fight before the decisive moment that might make have unwanted effects. We already decided that the path of least interference is the most desirable.”

“So you’re saying we shouldn’t try it?” Lucida asked.

“Heck, no!” Pif replied emphatically. “It just has several negatives to be aware of. In fact, if we don’t succeed this time, I suggest that we try that next time, and see if there are indeed undesirable consequences.”

“Okay, that’s officially our Plan B,” Lucida decided. “Plan A remains attempting to counteract the effects of the legitimate warning.”

Silence settled onto the group once more. They were back to waiting for the appearance of the first wave of changelings that wasn’t repelled by Cadance and Shining’s barrier. Each prepared as best they could. Pif soaked up as much ambient love energy as she dared, balancing it out with some of her siblings’ courage, loyalty, and determination to help maintain her control. Blue took the special shoes off his forelegs to soak up energy from the ground outside until he was fairly buzzing with energy begging for release. Destined prepared some shield spells ready to be triggered in a blink of an eye. Lucida did some limbering up exercises in case she needed to defend herself by more traditional physical means. Cinder scoffed several bowls of chips and a bottle of high proof rum. She noticed the others staring at her when she was halfway through chugging the alcohol.

“What?” she asked as if there was nothing unusual about what she was doing. “I need something to help fuel my flames.”

Lucida rolled her eyes. “Sure, Cinder. Just leave some bits to pay for that bottle.”

“You mean this history-fixing gig doesn’t come with any perks?” Cinder asked with a smirk.

Lucida just shook her head and let the subject drop.

As bad as waiting for the fighting to start was, standing by and doing nothing while it raged was even harder. The intensity ebbed and flowed in their area, but they remained focused on their goal. That is until a brawling pack of ponies and changelings burst into the bar below them. They rushed over to the edge of the balcony to observe what was happening, hoping that it would not spread upstairs and disrupt their plans.

Pif gasped in shock. “Those ponies aren’t military!”

The others saw that she was right. Three civilians were fighting the berserker drones, and even as they watched, one of the ponies was slain. Another was fighting desperately, but his coat was already thickly coated in blood. The third, however, was making a mockery of the drones’ attacks, grabbing anything and everything at hoof to use as a weapon. Even Cinder winced as the orange crystal pony nearly took the head off a changeling with a vicious swipe of a chair. The pony laughed and attacked the next changeling, and it was clear that they weren’t going to let him take them on one by one. He was fighting magnificently, but he was going to be overwhelmed.

 

 

Blue roared in defiance and leaped over the railing, thudding to the floor below with a crash that shook the building and drawing the attention of several drones. He was followed closely by Cinder and Pif. Muscle, magic, claws and flames rapidly dealt with the invaders, leaving the crystal pony standing there, panting for a moment before he dropped the lamp-stand that he had been wielding, and went over to his companion.

The pony had collapsed, and the floor beneath him was acquiring a pool of blood. He looked up as the orange pony and said weakly, “Sorry – I ain’t gonna be able to…” He started to cough, hacking up some blood before he settled down and continued with a wheeze in his voice. “Ain’t gonna pay ya back, Cit….” His words failed.

“Dammit, Garnet! Don’t die on me! You’re my right hoof, you buckin' idiot!”

“Sorr…” the wounded pony managed to say before the air sighed out of his lungs and the light left his eyes.

The crystal pony grimaced and closed the dead pony’s eyes. “Buckin' bastard's gone and left me. What the hay is a pony posse of one supposed to do?” He turned around and saw the three watching. “Well, what do youwant? If you’ve got nothing better to do than stare at a mare, I’ve got five dead friends to avenge.”

It was only then that the House Path team realize that the lean and unkempt crystal pony with a short-cropped mane and tail was actually a female.

 

 

“Well, you could at least thank us for saving your life,” Cinder replied, unimpressed by her rudeness.

The crystal pony waved dismissively. “I could have handled them.”

“Like your companions did?” Blue asked.

The young mare strutted up to Blue, lifting her muzzle up until she was nose to nose with him, glaring defiantly. “Listen, Big Blue, if you’re a street pony, you either cope or you die. As you can see, I’m not dead.”

“A street pony?” Lucida asked as she joined the others. “You’re a gang member?”

“Don’t call us a gang! We were a pony posse – we looked after each other to survive.”

“You didn’t have homes and families?” the hippogriff asked incredulously.

The crystal pony frowned. “Some of us lost everything when Sombra took over the empire. Some of us still had nothing when we returned.”

“But Princess Cadance….”

“Look, sister!” the pony said, poking Lucida with one forehoof, “We don’t need any help from any namby-pamby princess. We had each other, and we survived well enough.”

“That namby-pamby princess is my aunt.” Lucida’s words practically had icicles on them.

“Huh! Could’ve fooled me,” the mare replied, obviously unimpressed.

“What are you doing out here anyway? Everypony is supposed to have been evacuated to the castle.”

“We have our own rules – we don’t tell them what to do, and they don’t tell us what we can do.”

Lucida sniffed contemptuously. “Anarchists who care for nothing but themselves.”

Pif spoke up. “No, Lucy, you’re wrong. This mare does care, even though she’s trying not to show it.” She faced the crystal pony. “I felt how you were torn up over your friends’ deaths. I feel how afraid you are of being alone now. You don’t have to face it all by yourself though. You are welcome to stick with us for now.”

Lucida looked askance at the disguised ponyling. “Really, Pif?”

Pif nodded. “Trust me, Lucy.”

Lucida nodded. “Okay. Everyone back to watching the battle. We have a mission to accomplish.”

Pif turned back to the crystal pony. “My name is Epiphany Path, but you can call me Pif. My grumpy sister is Lucida Path. The… unicorn… is Destined Path, and the earth pony is Blue Streak Path, my brothers. Cinder is Blue’s mate.” Pif wasn’t prepared to reveal Destined’s true nature, nor hers as yet.

The mare grinned. “Never would’ve guessed you were all family. The name’s Citrine Quartz, famous throughout the Crystal City!”

“On all the ‘Wanted’ posters, I bet,” Lucida mumbled.

“Don’t mind her,” Pif said with a glare at her sister.

Citrine laughed. “Like I care. Just out of curiosity though, why aren’t you five hiding behind that shield out there?”

“We’re here to right a wrong,” Pif answered vaguely.

Citrine’s expression abruptly shifted to grim determination. “Well, now so am I! Those bugs are gonna pay for what they did to my posse!”

“Stick with us and you’ll have a better opportunity to do that and survive.”

“Pif!” Lucida exclaimed.

The hippogriff didn’t need to say another word; Pif knew exactly what her sister was objecting to. “Lucy, it’s already too late to worry about that. We’ve already gotten involved and she knows about us now, and I’m not going to let her go out there alone and get herself killed.”

Lucida fumed silently for a long moment before she sighed. “Okay, but if she screws up our objective, I’m blaming you for this. And Blue too. Had to play hero, didn’t you?”

Blue shrugged. “I still think it was the right thing to do.”

“So how’s skulking here gonna get me my payback?” Citrine asked.

Pif waved a hoof at the scene outside. “Those bugs, as you call them, are changeling drones, and while they’re dangerous, it’s their queen, Chrysalis, who is the true enemy. We’re here to stop her when we have the opportunity.”

“Great! I want a piece of her!”

“I can’t promise that, but maybe you can help indirectly. The fighting could get intense and we’ll need defending.” Of course Pif knew for sure that they were at the upcoming epicenter of the battle, but she could not tell Citrine that.

“I’m gonna kill me some bugs, one way or the other.”

Pif could taste her utter determination. “Just be aware that there are more than one type of changeling involved in this battle. The Blue Changelings are the enemy, but the Red Changelings are our friends and allies.”

“Gotcha. No point in killing someone on our side – that won’t get my friends their vengeance.”

Everyone settled back to watching the battle. They already knew all the important events that would be happening, and so they paid more attention to the lesser ones until the critical moment. When the fight with Chrysalis eventually began, Blue frowned in concern.

“Something’s wrong,” he said quietly to Lucida, not wanting to let Citrine overhear what he had to say.

“Why’s that?” Lucida asked, worried that they had missed something important.

“Very soon I should be doing my supersonic run up that street to clobber Chrysalis.”

“Yes – so?”

“I could only get up to that speed because it was almost totally clear of obstacles, but just look at it now.”

He waved a hoof in its direction, and all the others could see the multitude of changelings on the ground that were battling unicorns and earth ponies. There was no way that was going to clear up anytime soon.

Lucida looked grimly at the scene. “If you don’t get there in time, Dad dies then, and there’ll be no chance of defeating Chrysalis. We have to do something about that.”

Blue got up. “I’m going out there. With me, Cinder?”

“Of course,” the dragoness replied.

“You can’t go, Blue – you’re too distinctive. You could be remembered! You might make unwanted changes to history!” Lucida protested.

“I’ll have to take that chance.”

Pif spoke up. “Can Des give Blue a magical disguise?”

All eyes turned to Destined, and he gulped nervously. “Personal disguises aren’t my specialty, guys.”

Blue frowned. “Didn’t Mama Twilight teach you anything?”

“Yes,” Destined admitted. “I just wasn’t terribly good at that sort of thing.”

“It’s just like that map projection, for buck’s sake! DO IT!!!” snarled Blue.

Destined’s horn flared and Blue’s coat abruptly changed to pale yellow. The alicorn’s eyes opened wide in surprise at his immediate success. “I made your coat color match your lightning bolt cutie mark, so it won’t be distinguishable,” he said with a touch of pride.

“Good enough,” Blue replied. “Let’s go, Cinder!” He dashed out the door in a blur, closely followed by his partner.

“Holy buck!” Citrine exclaimed. “How can that big stud move so fast?!”

The remaining four watched as the duo plowed into the densest concentration of changelings, scattering them like leaves in the wind. The Equestrian defenders were puzzled by the yellow blur that they could not focus on, but seemed to be making their job much easier. More disconcerting was the dragon that was slicing some drones with her talons and burning others with gouts of flames, but as she seemed to be taking her wrath out on the Blue Changelings only, they decided that she was an ally.

“I can see young Blue,” announced Pif who had adjusted her eyes to farsight. “He’s just jumped from the Skyshark and started heading this way.”

“Cinder and Blue have almost cleared the street,” Lucida replied. “It’s going to be a very close thing.”

Citrine looked at Lucida through narrowed eyes, suspecting that there was something that she wasn’t being told, but she decided that this was the wrong moment to press her for more answers.

The problem wasn’t merely defeating the changelings along that street though, but drawing the fighting away as more drones poured in to take the place of the fallen. Nevertheless between Blue, Cinder, and the armed forces, the street slowly emptied. Moments later a blue blur streaked past, followed a fraction of a second later by an ear-shattering boom. Having anticipated it though, all of the watchers except for Citrine had their ears covered, and they witnessed yet again the teenage colt saving the life of their father. Before long, Blue and Cinder re-joined them.

“Did everything go right?” Blue asked.

“Yeah, history is still on track,” Lucida replied forgetting about Citrine in the heat of the moment. “I seriously don’t want to know how it is that it worked out originally if it needed us here to fix it.”

“I’ve decided to let Des have that headache. I’ll stick to making sure it all stays on track.”

Citrine, whose ears were still ringing from the sonic boom, said, “What did you say?”

Lucida realized her potential slip-up and replied loudly, “The battle plan almost went wrong but Blue fixed it.”

“Oh – right,” Citrine replied, only half-believing what she was told.

Lucida opted for a quick change of subject. “Destined, I think you had better go keep an eye on Uncle Shining now. If one event we were relying on didn’t go right without our intervention, perhaps another will also. It can’t hurt to be prepared.”

Destined nodded. “Agreed. Be careful, sis.” His horn lit up, and a moment later he teleported out of the room and into the castle, slipping past Shining Armor’s shield as readily as his mother had done.

Citrine had heard that unicorns could do that trick, but had dismissed it as a tall story brought in from Equestria. She was impressed and intrigued. Whatever else this strange group were up to, at least they weren’t boring. She was still getting fidgety from having nothing to do though. She itched to get her hooves on some of those invaders!

Just then, something smashed through the roof of the bar. Several bodies crashed to the floor on both levels, and it took the startled watchers several moments to comprehend what was happening. Several fiercely fighting Red Changelings were engaged with a large group of the invading drones, and the violent struggle had taken its toll on the roof, and now the contents of the bar.

Citrine cried with glee and hurled herself into the fray, picking up and swinging a bar stool in one easy motion, breaking the neck of a Blue Changeling before it even noticed her coming.

Lucida called out, “Pif! Don’t get involved! You’ll be needed soon. Blue and Cinder, make sure that lot doesn’t interfere with our primary goal, but otherwise don’t engage!”

As loath as they were to not fight the enemy, both the earth pony and the dragoness recognized the higher priority of their mission, and focused on defense. Fortunately to assuage their frustrations, on several occasions drones would attack them directly, and it gave them much satisfaction to show the changelings the error of their decision. At first they had been worried about Citrine, but not only was the mare handling herself well, she also seemed to be getting more and more dangerous as time passed. She had no discernible style, but she was a brawler without equal, and anything she laid a hoof on was a deadly weapon. Her coat gleamed ever brighter as the fight continued, and to their surprise, they saw a spear shatter on her flank, the crystal hide acting like armor.

Pif’s attention was divided. She could not afford to ignore the Blues which continued to swarm through the open roof, but she also had to be aware of the progress of the battle outside. Timing was going to be critical. As before though, she heard nothing over the hive-mind except basic instructions despite turning up her sensitivity this time around. She was still going to have to react nearly instantaneously when the warning to Chrysalis came, but that was still some very nerve-wracking minutes away, and those Blue drones were right here, right now. However, she had one big advantage over them – she was a queen, and she could do something that she had witnessed Chrysalis do. It was going to be tricky though.

Pif carefully extended her senses along the hive-link to locate the drones that were closest to her. With so many others swarming around the building, it was not a simple task, but eventually she was confident that she had identified at least the majority in the vicinity. Then she activated the power that she had very assiduously been trained not to use as a child. She drew the love energy out of the drones as fast as possible, and they start dropping from exhaustion. The Red Changelings were only momentarily startled by the sudden turn of events, but they did not hesitate to dispatch the Blues as quickly as possible. Left alone, they would have quickly recovered due to the large amount of ambient love energy this close to the city.

With the immediate danger dealt with, Pif turned her attention back to the fight between Free and Chrysalis. She was buzzing with the extra energy that she had drawn from the drones, but she focused it with all the strength of her will so that she did not lose control. She could use it to help her deal with Chrysalis.

Citrine stove in the skull of the last of the drones that Pif had missed and looked around for more. She had only managed to kill four of the changelings in exchange for each of the five lives of her companions, and while most would be satisfied with a score of kills, her loyalty to her slain comrades demanded more. For now though, the fighting was ended, and she watched as the Red Changelings gathered about one of their own who was lying on the floor. She went over to see was happening, and a couple of the Reds looked at her and nodded in acknowledgement of her help.

“Let… let her through,” came a weak voice from the 'ling on the floor.

The other Reds parted reluctantly and Citrine had her first good look at the stricken changeling. It was significantly larger than the others, and possessed a mane with curious voids in it rather than the finned crests of the others. The eyes were slit instead of the overall red glow of its… no her companions. She looked at Citrine with firmness that her injuries belied, and smiled.

“You are… a fountain, a geyser of loyalty… and it sustains me for the moment… but it is too little, too late for me, pony…. My time is passing.”

Citrine was rarely impressed by strangers, but she had seen this changeling fight, and they had even had each other’s backs for a brief time. This was someone she would have been proud to have in her posse. “Who are you?”

“I am Princess Vindictia… of the Red Hive. I’m also known as… General Iron Chitin of the… Red Changeling forces defending…” She broke into a cough, hacking up a worrying amount of blood. When she got it under control, she continued, “Defending the Crystal City. … I’m in your debt for helping my squad. … I would ask you to keep helping them… as I can do so no longer.”

Citrine stomped the floor in defiance. “There is still fight in you, I know there is! Your team needs a leader, and the Crystal Kingdom must not fall!” As she spoke her emotions became more and more intense, and the six remaining changelings were healing themselves from the overwhelming excess of their preferred type of emotional energy.

“You fight with… such determination. Why?”

“They invaded this land, killed ponies, changelings, and griffons alike! Most of all, they killed my posse! This demands retribution!!” the orange crystal pony shouted.

“You have fought hard… as hard as the best of pony warriors.” She paused to cough once more, visibly weaker this time. “I sense a kindred spirit in you. … I am going to die… but we can help each other… before I fade to the Great Circle…. Will you consent to fight with me?”

Citrine’s face set with grim determination. “I’ll do anything that will get my vengeance!”

The princess hacked and coughed for a worrying length of time until, with one quick mental motion, she severed her own connection from the Red Hive. “Lieutenant Graxx… tell mother that I am doing… the Rite of Transference…. Six days remain.”

The red battle drone’s eyes widened as he hastily saluted. “Yes, Princess Vindictia!”

Pif looked at Graxx. “What is this Rite of Transference?”

Graxx replied, “In the Red Hive, we believe in no 'ling left behind. This is a spell cast by the dying 'ling that temporarily allows a host to hold their essence until they can be given their last rites and returned to the Great Circle. This aids the host by giving them the power to complete their final task. The duration of the transfer depends on the 'ling doing it. A drone like myself could manage three or four days, but a princess can manage up to a week. In either case, our queen must separate the fallen and usher them back to the Circle.”

Pif blinked. “And if more than a week passes?”

Graxx averted his eyes. “The body dies and both souls are trapped inside, so they can't pass on.”

Citrine’s confident grin returned. “Ha! Piece of cake. Let’s do this!”

While Vindictia’s body was trembling with weakness, her gaze at Citrine was like steel. “If you want to fight… you want to win... repeat after me….” she coughed again as blood started to leak down her muzzle, but her horn started to glow with the energy that she was reaping from the determined crystal pony. “On my honor… I will never betray my integrity… my character… or the innocent masses…. I will destroy evil… and protect the innocent…. I swear this to my Queen… and the Great Circle.”

As Citrine started to repeat the oath, Vindictia’s horn glowed brighter and brighter. When she finished the oath, the princess shakily raised her hoof and placed it against Citrine’s chest, and a strange emblem was burned onto her hide. The red glow of the changeling princess’ magic surrounded the crystal pony’s head before it faded and Vindictia collapsed, her now lifeless husk lying motionless on the floor as Citrine stood there, strangely energized.

Hello, Citrine.

‘Vindictia? How are you in my head?’

A temporary transference – one body cannot sustain two souls for long, but it will be enough time for us to complete our mission, and get to Mother where I can be released to the Great Circle. Now, we have much work to do. Allow me to guide you.

The building shook once more as one of the battling queens wreaked havoc nearby.

Citrine gestured with a hoof at Pif and the others. “This bunch seems to have a secret plan to take out Chrysalis.”

Graxx looked over to where Pif was surrounded by her defenders. “Is this true?”

Lucida nodded. “I can’t tell you everything because it’s secret and we don’t have the time for a lengthy explanation, but it’s our purpose to take out Chrysalis at a specific moment in the fight. Lord Path will supply Free Agent with the power to overcome Chrysalis, and it’s up to us to ensure it succeeds. That moment will come soon, and our sister, Epiphany, is critical to its success. She cannot be distracted at that time or we may fail, so we defend her.”

“I taste the truth in your words,” Graxx replied. He turned to Citrine. “What do you wish us to do, Princess?”

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