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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6. Chapter 4 - Fitting In

It was pleasant for the five adventurers to be back in the familiar surroundings of Ponyville with its mixture of pony and changeling inhabitants. The time spent in the past in the Crystal Kingdom had taken the edge off their unpleasant experiences in the alternative timeline, but it still bothered them all that history could have been so much different, especially for Epiphany. While she would not have even been conceived in that timeline, she felt deeply for all the changelings who were affected by the meddling in history. She let her disguise slip and resumed her changeling princess form. Today she wanted to feel proud to be the future Queen of the Chrome Hive.

Passing changelings gave her respectful nods rather than the groveling obeisance or slavish servitude that Chrysalis imposed on the Blue Changelings. That was exactly how her mother, Gossamer/Free Agent, and she herself preferred. Cooperation was their strength, not blind obedience, and Equestrian society was reaping the benefits of the open relationship between ponies and the shape-changers. A whole generation had grown up in Ponyville not knowing what it was like not to have a changeling companion. New social dynamics had been created, and the concept of a family was changing with emotivores like herself providing insight and stability previously practically unheard of. The first open three-way wedding of a mare, a stallion, and a changeling had caused quite a stir in the rather traditional rural town, but it was now an unremarkable common occurrence.

All of this had only come about due to her parents – all four of them – and the enormous effect that they and House Path had made on society in both Equestria and Griffonia, with inroads being made in many other nations. All of this threatened by someone with the power to make history-altering changes for their own selfish desires. She expected that there would be other attempts to alter their destinies, but she and her brothers and sisters would do their utmost to foil those plans while they had the power to do so. She heaved a sigh of relief as they entered Twilight’s castle, their home away from home, with nothing more exciting than the guards at the door saluting them. Yes, they would have to be on their guard, but for now, it was time to unwind.

“Who wants to join me in the hot tub?” Pif asked the others.

There was a chorus of replies as everyone felt that it was great idea.

Lucida frowned. “All five of us won’t fit in the tub though.”

“I have a suggestion,” Blue Streak replied. “With all the physical training that I did, I needed a bit more attention to my body, and Mom often took me to Lotus and Aloe’s Spa. Not only do they have a gigantic tub, but they also have masseurs. Let me tell you that it’s heavenly to have a mare kneading away your tension.”

“Sounds divine,” Destined agreed. “I’ve never been so tense in my life.”

Pif grinned. “Well, while you boys get massaged, I say we girls get some pampering. Like Auntie Rarity says, battle is no excuse for not looking fabulous!”

Cinder snorted in amusement. “That is one strange mare. Still, it’s been a while since I’ve had my talons trimmed and my hide buffed.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Lucida decreed. “Everyone drop off your stuff in your rooms and we’ll gather back here in ten minutes before heading over to the spa.”

# # #

Aside from the vortex manipulator that Blue refused to leave behind, he and all the others had divested themselves of all their accouterments. The spa was fairly busy that day, but both Blue and Destined would be able to be fitted into the schedule for massages in a short time, so they spent the first quarter hour soaking in the tub with the others. Aloe came over to them to announce that their time-slots were now open, and she led them to massage rooms. She indicated the first room to Blue who looked inside to see an earth pony mare who seemed pleased to see him.

“Hey, Orchard Blossom! Good to see you again.”

“It’s been a while, Blue. You haven’t been seeing other masseuses, have you?” she asked slyly.

“The only massages I’ve been getting have been from my mate, I assure you!” Blue replied with a laugh before Aloe drew the privacy curtain.

Destined chuckled as Aloe took him to the next open room. Somehow he reckoned that he had better not mention this to Cinder. The dragoness barely tolerated even harmless innuendo when it came to her mate. He hoped that the mare massaging him would refrain though. He did not feel comfortable with the thought.

However, the young alicorn was surprised to see that his massager was not a mare. In fact he was the least likely pony that Destined expected to find there. The masseur was a thestral with a light brown coat and floofy beige mane. He wore an apricot-colored ascot around his neck, and he had sparkling blue slit eyes and a devastatingly charming grin.

 

 

Aloe said, “This is Silk Touch, our newest masseur, but I assure you he’s just as talented with his hooves as any of the others.”

Destined was quite intrigued by the bat-pony and he reassured Aloe that he would do nicely as he stepped up to the massage table.

“It’s quite an honor to get to work on royalty, Your Highness,” Silk Touch said as he adjusted the sheet on the massage table.

“Oh, please, just drop the titles,” Destined replied, his ears folding back to his head in irritation. “I might officially be a prince, but most of the time I’m just Destined Path, okay?”

“As you like, Just Destined. Make yourself comfy, and I’ll make you feel like a king, even if you like to slum with us peasants,” Silk replied jauntily.

Destined chuckled even as he spread himself over the massage table. “So, what makes a thestral take a job as a masseur? Or is that a racist question?”

“Oh, you’re not wrong about the unlikelihood, but I enjoy getting hooves-on with my clients. I just love to make them feel good. But while we’re asking species-related questions, is there anything that I should know about alicorns before I start?”

Destined shook his head. “Not massage-wise, no. If you’ve worked with pegasi, then you should be fine.”

“And what about non-massage related things?”

Destined turned to look at the thestral who just gave him an innocent grin. The alicorn had to smile. “We’ll see about that, won’t we?”

“I certainly hope so, but until then….” Silk placed his hooves on the calf muscle of one of Destined’s hind legs. “Each client is slightly different. If anything that I am doing bothers you, let me know. I can already tell that you have some muscle tension, and I can deal with that, but if you feel there’s a problem, don’t hesitate to say something.”

“Okay, I’ll do that. This is the first time I’ve had a massage though, so hopefully I don’t overreact.”

“If I’m doing my job right, I don’t think you will. Let’s get started, shall we? I will be using warm oils to make the experience both more pleasant and effective.”

“Okay.” Destined relaxed and let the bat-pony get to work. It was quite a novel experience for him as he felt Silk’s hooves massage knots out of his muscles, and the feeling got quite sensual at times.

“You seem to be very tense,” Silk commented conversationally. “Have you been having difficulties lately?”

Destined snorted. “You would be right. I’ve had a hoof in events that could have changed the world.”

“Sounds drastic. Why haven’t I heard about them then?”

“You might say that too much time has passed since then.”

“Ooh! Cryptic, are we?” Silk said as his hooves slid between Destined’s wings which popped out to full extension.

“Oops! Sorry about that.” Destined’s blush burned brightly on his cheeks.

“No, that’s perfectly normal, especially if you’re on edge like you seem to be. Let me help with that too.” With careful strokes, Silk worked on the wing muscles, and Destined groaned with relief as he felt the tension melt away. The master masseur gradually worked his way up past the alicorn’s shoulders and then to the neck muscles before his task was completely done.

Destined felt as limp as a soggy noodle, and felt better than he had in ages. “Why haven’t I ever done this before?” he murmured.

“I take it that you’re satisfied with the service?” the bat-pony asked with a knowing grin.

“Oh, shut up – you already know what I feel like,” Destined responded languidly.

Silk laughed. “Be that as it may, your session is up and I will need my table back.”

With an effort of will, Destined rolled off the massage table. Only then did he get a good look at himself glistening with the massage oils. There was even a full length mirror in the room so that he could admire the effect. He did not think a mirror would be standard equipment, but he had to admit that it was a nice touch.

“As gorgeous as you look, I suspect that you’ll want to wash off the oils. One of the ladies will show you to a cleansing bath.”

Destined saw the thestral’s appreciative looks in the mirror and his blush returned. He was not used to feeling like this, but he liked it. “Thanks, Silk. I reckon I’ll be back soon. I think I’m already addicted to those talented hooves of yours.”

The privacy curtain was drawn aside just then, and Lotus smiled at Destined and indicated that he should follow her. As he walked away, Silk Touch admired the alicorn’s rear, licking his lips, his long tongue sliding hungrily along one of his fangs.

Oh, my! I hope he does come back soon. What a find!’ He began cleaning up in preparation for the next customer. When Lotus returned with another client, a mare this time, he pulled the spa owner aside briefly. “Do me a favor, boss – if Prince Destined comes in for anything, tell me. I want to give him my personal service.”

Lotus nodded knowingly. “I will do that, as long as you don’t neglect your other clients. Now back to work!”

Silk managed to do his usual professional job for the mare, but part of his mind remained on the hunky blue alicorn for the rest of the day.

# # #

Upon Queen Carpacia’s return with Path and Citrine, the discussion of the recent events began anew between, although this time it included Path and Shining Armor. However, while there was a great deal of concern over the matter, there was very little that they could actually do.

“How are we going to find Chrysalis when up until now we did not even realize that she was still a threat?” Dianthia asked.

“We will need to send out agents everywhere to look for unusual activity,” Carpacia replied. “Each hive must send out infiltrators with just this goal in mind.”

Queen Lamina spoke up. “I have a multitude of drones in the police and emergency services that can be put to the task.”

“House Path has a lot of contacts in foreign lands now, and I can ask Cinder to talk with the dragon nomads to ask them to keep a look-out also,” Path suggested. “I can also approach Queen Aquila to do the same. She is aware of how dangerous Chrysalis is to all of Equus.”

“What if Chrysalis makes another time-change before we can locate her?” Shining asked.

“There is absolutely nothing that we can do to prevent the change; we will not even be aware of it,” Celestia replied. “Even Starswirl the Bearded had huge difficulty crafting time spells, and there were none that I am aware of that could prevent a change in history.”

“What of this Doctor fellow that thou mentioned, Sister? He hast done the impossible already, judging by our nieces and nephews’ tale.”

Celestia shook her head. “Even if he could help us, it’s not a matter of finding him. He finds you! Or in this case, he found Blue Streak, Prince Destined Path, Lucida Path, Princess Epiphany, and Cinder to be his agents.”

“That doth seem most unreliable,” Luna grumbled.

“I have learned not to question his methods, bizarre as some have seemed to be at the time.”

“Is there no other way that we can be proactive about this threat?” Queen Orlare asked. “I fear for the well-being of all those under our care.”

“Well I see one loose end that should be dealt with,” Queen Dianthia replied with a frown. “That crystal pony does not belong here in this time. For all we know, she could be disturbing history simply by being here.”

“Oh, come on!” Free protested. “Destined is about the closest thing that we have to an expert on this space-time stuff, and he wasn’t concerned about her.”

“He also hasn’t had the time to think about the ramifications. It was an accident that brought her along with them.”

Twilight said, “I think that you’re right about looking into the ramifications, Dianthia, but I also agree with Free’s opinion about Destined’s evaluation of the possible threat.”

Dianthia frowned. “You are Queen Gossamer’s mate and inevitably biased.”

“Dianthia!” Carpacia exclaimed. “You’re talking about the Avatar of Magic, and her son, an alicorn whose talent is metaphysics. Surely they would know far better than any of us about any danger!”

“You’re all talking about her as if this hypothetical time stuff is the only threat,” Shining Armor said. “She’s a street urchin and a troublemaker. She doesn’t belong here!”

Cadance looked disappointed with her husband. “Are you saying that we can’t do something about that now that we have the opportunity? Besides, wouldn’t sending her back in time be interfering with history yet again? We don’t know what kind of trouble that would cause.”

“That’s the point!” Dianthia shouted. “We don’t know what kind of trouble she would cause either by being left here or sent back, but the past is where she came from, and that’s where she belongs!”

Carpacia’s ire was rising along with Dianthia’s. “You don’t know or understand her at all. She is a beacon of bravery and loyalty to us. My daughter chose Citrine as her vessel because of it. She deserves better consideration!”

Lamina nodded in agreement. “She does deserve special consideration, but that does not mean that we should not examine the possible negatives of not sending her back.”

“I was already going to discreetly watch over her,” Twilight objected. “I see no reason to do so in a hostile manner!”

“Twily – you don’t know her like I do. She’s never been anything but a pain in the butt to the Empire Guard.”

“Shiny – you may be the Alicorn of Protection, but I’m the Princess of Friendship, and I say that everypony deserves the chance to prove her worth!”

“It’s not her worth that we’re judging, but her threat!” Dianthia yelled.

“And I’m saying that she’s not a threat!” Carpacia yelled right back.

“Please, Your Majesties!” Celestia tried to intervene. “We’re trying to have a reasonable discussion here.”

HEY! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!” came a livid voice from the doorway.

Everyone turned to see two Royal Guards struggling to hold back Citrine who had an absolutely pissed-off expression on her face. Having caught their attention, she continued in a slightly less loud voice, but no less angrily.

“Think I’m deaf or something? I hear you arguing over what to do with me, but what makes you think you have the right?” She lifted a hoof to point at Celestia and Luna. “You’re not even the rulers of my country!” Her hoof shifted to point at Shining Armor and Cadance. “And you two came along and said you were the Crystal Empire’s new rulers – who asked you? I sure didn’t, and neither did the rest of my posse! No ruler ever gave a toss about us, and we sure didn’t give a toss about you. All you thought about us was as troublemakers, but you never really understood us.” Her attention then turned to the Green Queen. “But at least they are ponies who I can tolerate. You, however, a nosy bug who is so obsessed with an idea that you’re willing to push until you get your own way. I’ve got news for you, Queeny – you’re not my boss either, and I don’t care what you want because I’m not listening to any of you.”

She put her left hoof on her right arm and bent the arm to give a jerky upward gesture with her right hoof. “So buck you!” She shifted her attention to Shining and did the same obscene gesture to him. “Buck you!” Towards Celestia. “Buck you, too!” She looked towards Carpacia. “You’re cool. So are you,” she added while looking at Free. She turned to Lamina. “And buck you too!”

Citrine finally allowed the Guards to remove her from the room, but she did not stop there. With a flare of crystal magic that made her coat glitter, she wrested free of them and galloped away.

Twilight cried out, “Citrine – wait!” She leaped up and flew off after her.

Free looked around at the shocked faces and chuckled. “I believe that ends this discussion. Now I’m going to join my wife. Toodles!” He then launched himself in pursuit of the others.

Luna grinned wryly and banged her gavel. “Meeting adjourned.”

# # #

Twilight caught up to Citrine as the crystal pony exited into a courtyard and slowed down, having lost her sense of direction in the unfamiliar palace.

“Citrine, wait up, please!”

Citrine turned to face Twilight. “Why? Are you going to tell me what I should do too?”

Twilight alighted beside Citrine. “No, but I will offer you a place to stay. Be honest with yourself – have you anywhere to sleep, or to find a meal, or to be with friends?”

Citrine knew that she didn’t, but she stubbornly didn’t want to admit it. “I’ve always managed to cope on my own.”

“Didn’t you say you had your… posse to support you?” Twilight pointed out as Free landed beside them.

“We helped each other if we needed to, but we were always strong by ourselves too.”

Free said, “You don’t have to sacrifice your independence, Citrine. Path said that he already welcomed you into our House, but that doesn’t come with strings attached. What we do is help you reach your full potential while staying with us. You challenge yourself. You can be strong, but also have help when needed.”

Citrine had started to calm down, and what they were offering was quite tempting.

“Please say you’ll come home with us,” Twilight pled sincerely.

Free gave the crystal mare a sly grin. “Pif will be there.”

A smirk broke out on Citrine’s face as her normal buoyant nature returned. “Sold! Let’s go!”

Twilight looked at Free. “Pif?”

Free winked at her. “I’ll tell you later.”

Twilight shrugged. “Home it is then.” Her horn lit up, and they teleported away.

# # #

Techbird entered Long Path’s Griffonian office, nodded to the others gathered there, and took a seat on an available cushion.

Path smiled at her and said, “Now that we’re all here, let’s get this under way so we can all get to dinner on time. As I mentioned earlier, I called this meeting so that we can share our impressions of Citrine Quartz, and give our preliminary evaluations of her aptitudes. It has only been two weeks since she joined us, but her unusual circumstances necessitate that we ensure that she is not disadvantaged because of them. Unlike most who have joined House Path, Citrine did not join as a dedicated student and apprentice warrior, nor did she go through the normal selection process to determine if she was suitable. She is a refugee both through time and life circumstances, so please bear this in mind when you voice your opinions. Techbird – would you care to start us off?”

The griffoness sighed. “I would love to start off more positively, but it’s fairly obvious that Citrine has neither the interest nor aptitude for the sciences. She has a basic understanding of mathematics which I suspect she acquired before whatever happened to turn her into a street foal. She has not been inclined to talk to me about it though, so I can’t confirm that. My preliminary evaluation is that she is not suited for a career of any technical nature.”

Path nodded in agreement with her assessment. “Thank you, Techbird. Twilight – you’re next.”

Twilight shuffled her notes before starting. “I agree with Techbird’s impressions. She does appear to have a basic education, which means she’s literate and numerate, but her knowledge is nowhere near as comprehensive as it should be for someone of her age. Compounding the problem is the fact that she’s a young adult, and not inclined to partake in classes with students much younger than her. Indeed, she has openly said that she sees no point in going back to school. I have managed to do an assessment on her magical aptitude, and aside from the crystallomancy that she demonstrated, she seems to be very average. On that one talent though, I sense great potential, but at present it seems to be escaping her conscious control.”

Warfist cleared his throat. “If I may interject here, I have witnessed the crystallomancy effect while assessing Citrine’s combat capabilities. It appears to manifest when she’s in a certain frame of mind, and that matches with the reports from the incidents in the Crystal City and at the Royal Council.”

Twilight nodded. “I thought as much too. Anyway, in line with Techbird’s assessment, I feel that Citrine is not suited to extensive academic studies. However, she should be encouraged to find ways to develop her control of her special talent. Considering what Warfist has just said, that might lie in his field, at least in part.”

“Would you agree, Warfist?” Path asked.

“I have seen encouraging signs to that effect. Again, Citrine is very undisciplined when it comes to combat, and I found her to be woeful when it came to any more rigidly defined styles of combat. She is also terrible with a number of weapons, and could not hit the broad side of a barn with a bow and arrow. I was ready to dismiss the reports of her battle prowess at the Crystal City, but I recalled what Lucida said about her being a brawler, so I put her into similar situation with a few of my better students in the gymnasium full of equipment. When she was told what was expected of her, she actually grinned at me, and I could feel her eagerness. I wondered if it was overconfidence, but she quickly dispelled that idea. She wiped the floor with her opponents. Her lack of style is her style. She excels at unorthodoxy, and uses nearly everything that she can lay a hoof on as a weapon. Her unexpected moves and unusual armaments were enough to throw off the other student warriors long enough for her to press home her advantage. Despite her being an amateur, I came away very impressed.”

“So, do you feel she should be trained for a career as a House Warrior?” Path asked.

“She is already warrior, but I believe that she is currently too undisciplined to be a House Warrior who needs to be able to fight as part of a team. However, we would risk losing her unique style if we put her through normal training procedures. I would like to try some more private sessions with her while I get a better feel for her capabilities, especially the crystallomancy that was previously mentioned. That could be her biggest asset. It was while she was at the peak of her fight during the test that it manifested, and I believe it not only enhances her strength, but the crystalline hide is in effect a form of armor. I witnessed one student land a telling blow on Citrine while it was in effect, only to have it almost totally ignored.”

“That sounds extremely promising,” Path said. “Go ahead with those extra sessions. I’ll coordinate suitable times with you once we complete her assessment.” He turned to Roseclaw. “What about you, Rose? Did you find any other hidden talents in Citrine?”

“I would not say talents, but she certainly took a great interest in history, especially Griffonian. I suspect that she’s a fan of the more, shall we say, exciting events which griffons are a little infamous for, but she has paid attention in social studies also. I’m not certain yet though if the latter is because of her field of interest, or whether she’s just trying to get a feel for the novel situation that she’s in now. She could lose interest tomorrow if she thinks she’s learned a sufficient amount to fit in.”

Twilight spoke up. “I gathered some of that impression too, but I wasn’t sure. Still, I’m glad to see that she’s taken any interest at all in those subjects.”

“Perhaps you’re all too focused on your pet subjects, Sparkles,” Free said with a smirk. “How about we talk about the arts for a bit.”

“Go ahead, Free,” Path agreed. “Have we a budding artist in our midst?”

“Well, art is often in the eye of the beholder, but I believe she’s more suited to forms of expression rather than that of learning. I gave her the opportunity to try a few things. Her painting was very raw, but she put a lot of emotion into her work. One changeling student claimed that he could taste the positive emotions emanating from it, and I had to agree. She’s very emotive, which is why those three Red Changelings that Carpacia sent to watch over Citrine like hanging around with her a lot. I also tried her out in the music department, and while I think she could learn to play several instruments, I don’t believe she will because she lacks the patience and discipline for that. There was one notable exception though – she’s taken to the drums like you wouldn’t believe!”

“That’s because she likes hitting things!” Twilight grumbled.

Free grinned. “Yes, I suppose she does, but what better way to put that urge to use than with things she’s supposed to hit? In the short time that she has been here, she’s practically matched the current drummer’s skills. I hope to have her have a drum battle in an upcoming concert if she’s interested, and I think she will be.”

Path nodded thoughtfully. “It does sound like Citrine would be better off with more arts-related subjects. We need to have her be more engaged with the House goals.”

“Actually, I think we need to pay more attention to Herd goals,” Free said.

“What do you mean?”

“We’ve established that she’s very emotive, and we also already know how strong-willed she is. I think that can be a positive thing for us.”

“How do you mean, Free?” Twilight asked.

“It would be easier to show you.” Free turned to face the window and pointed. “Have a look out there.”

They all looked, some shifting to see better.

Free continued, “That’s Citrine out there with the three Red Changelings and a number of the griffon and pony friends she has already made. There’s one more person – a certain asocial daughter of ours. When was the last time that you saw Pif wasting her precious laboratory time with chatting and other ‘non-productive’ activities?”

Pif was not only animatedly chatting with the group, but she was obviously enjoying herself. Something that Citrine said caused her to laugh long and loud.

“I can feel Pif’s good mood, and I am reveling in it. And this is hardly the first time this has happened. I don’t care if the only thing she ever achieves here is getting Pif to be more social. That alone is worth it. However, this is what Citrine does all the time. Sure, she’s random and a little wild, but when she’s not being provoked in some way, her standard mood is unreservedly happy, and she laughs a lot. She loves to make others laugh too. In chatting with her during classes, I learned that she did much the same with her pony posse, and put together with other clues, I believe that she was the lynch-pin of that group – its heart and soul. Now she’s doing it here too, and I reckon it’s just the thing that House Path needs.”

A smile was plastered on the faces of Twilight and Roseclaw, and even Path was pleased by this turn of events.

“She also said that she found Pif to be cute,” Path noted. “Perhaps it might go a little deeper, do you think?”

Free grinned. “I think that Citrine is a mare who knows what she likes, and goes wholeheartedly after it.”

“Then let’s give her more opportunity to find out what she likes,” Path decided. “I’ll adjust her classes with regards to what has been discussed, but as for her relationship with Pif, I think she might have that well in hoof.”

# # #

With the meeting completed and new schedules arranged, Path, Free, Twilight, and Roseclaw were able to get to the family dinner in a timely manner, although their children had all beaten them there. The House staff were ready to serve the meal immediately, and they ate and conversed as they normally did. The only surprise was when Luna walked into the room just before they had finished dining. Twilight was the first to see her enter.

“Luna! You’re very early today – is there something wrong?”

Luna shook her head. “Nay, there’s another matter that I wish to bring up, but 'tis of a personal nature.”

Path frowned in puzzlement. “But normally at this time you would be involved with the handover of duties with Celestia and then raising the moon before teleporting here to Griffonia. What could be so important to change that?”

Luna took a seat at the table beside Free who looked at her with a slowly growing grin on his face. The Moon Princess poked disinterestedly at a plate of carrot sticks. “There are problems that are unique to alicorn kind, some that Twilight has yet to experience. One of them has to do with the fact that we do not age….”

“Oh no!” Twilight interrupted, “Has some old friend passed away?”

Luna shook her head and chuckled. “Nay, far from it, Twilight. Although we are described as immortal, in fact the truth is although we do not appear to age, we nevertheless continue to grow at a very slow rate, hence our stature. Many other things get slowed down almost to a stop also. Almost. One such thing has come around again after many centuries. Would you care to speculate which?”

Free smiled knowingly and asked, “When did you last come into season?”

“Today!” Luna almost shouted, her calm demeanor shattering as she grinned widely. Her horn lit up, and Path found himself floating out of his seat.

“Whoa! Luna – what are you up to?!” the earth pony yelped as the alicorn started towing him out of the room.

“Guess!” was Luna’s gleeful reply.

As the duo left the room, Path called out while reaching desperately to the others, “If I don’t survive the night, I love you aallll….”

 

 

Free and Roseclaw fell into each other’s arm, laughing their heads off. Twilight rolled her eyes and said, “What a ham!” She snickered before adding thoughtfully, “I wonder if Luna will have an alicorn foal? Considering that both Cadance and I did, I suspect she will too.”

Blue Streak cleared his throat. “Speaking of foals, Mama, there’s something that Cinder and I have been talking about lately.”

Twilight looked at her son, then at Cinder who had a hopeful look on her face. “Are you considering having a foal also?”

Cinder nodded. “I think it’s time.”

Twilight considered the idea. “Aren’t you rather young by dragon standards to be considering laying an egg as yet?”

“By dragon standards – yes, considerably so. However, that is more of a social thing because we live so long, and we can’t afford to breed too often, so we defer it for decades. But I’m not living as part of a dragon society at the moment. I have a pony mate, I live in a pony-griffon society, and I am an adult who desires to have a child with the one that I love.”

“You don’t have to convince me, Cinder,” Twilight replied with an understanding smile. “I suppose that you and Blue just want to hear it from me that I don’t think that it’s a bad idea.”

Blue chuckled nervously. “Yeah, you got that right. I mean, I find the idea of having a son or daughter to be awesome, but is it going to work out for us?”

Twilight looked over at Free who gazed back fondly. “I married a changeling queen, and that has worked out pretty well. Don’t let your differences hold you back.”

“Well, there's one thing that is holding us back,” Blue admitted.

“You need a compatibility spell, right? My dear son, I’ve had one ready for you since the day you and Cinder committed to each other. I’ve been waiting for my first grandchild for quite long enough, don’t you think?”

Blue looked at Cinder who actually blushed. He looked back to Twilight and said, “We’ll do our best, Mama.”

Destined, Lucida, and Pif all got up out of their seats to congratulate them, and talk excitedly about the couple’s plans for a family.

Twilight smiled at the sight before turning away, and her thoughts turning inwards. She was drawn out of her reverie by the feeling of a wing wrapping around her torso. She looked to her side to see Free gazing at her while giving her a warm hug.

“Something’s bothering you, isn’t it, Sparkles?”

Twilight gave a wry chuckle. “All this talk of foals has brought up something that has been on my mind for a while now. We’ve both given birth to children, but we haven’t actually had a child between us yet.”

“You always said that you wanted the kids to grow up before having another,” Free pointed out. “So I’ve waited until you were ready.”

“But now they’ll be thinking about families of their own. Blue took longer than I thought, but I can easily see Lucida falling for some handsome cock or stallion soon. I don’t think I want to have a foal who is younger than their niece or nephew, but I’m not even sure that we can.”

Free’s expression turned serious. “Yeah, we know that my biology will adapt to other species so that I can get pregnant, but will it work the other way around?”

“And a reliable compatibility spell for changelings has yet to be devised,” Twilight added glumly.

“Of course that only really applies to Harvester drones,” Free pointed out. “We haven’t really tried to find out if we are compatible without a spell.”

“There’s the added problem that Luna brought up. I haven’t gone into heat naturally since before our children were conceived.”

“But whenever we have a foursome, we go into the gestalt, and you and Roseclaw go into heat then. Me too if I switch to female form.”

That was certainly true, and they’d had to practice contraception assiduously to prevent unwanted pregnancies. “I know, but although I love our herd-mates dearly, this is something that I want to do with just my husband. This is going to be something special between just you and I.”

Free smiled tenderly and kissed Twilight. “I’d like that too, Sparkles. I think we’re just going to have to be patient and wait for your season to come around naturally. No more foursomes for you though until then though; they probably mess with your natural rhythm.”

Twilight giggled and nodded. “I think I’ll survive.”

“Besides, I think Luna can take up the slack,” Free said with a mischievous smile.

Twilight whapped him over the head with a wing and poked her tongue out at him. Then she snuggled him. “Don’t ever change, Firetail.”

# # #

“I’m sorry – you can’t enter.” The chrome changeling guarding the entrance to the lab stared resolutely at Citrine.

“You can either call the lift, or I'm going to jump. I'm getting that recluse out of here and we're going for a night out!” she barked at the 'ling before she took a few steps back.

“There is no way you can be that stup– WAIT!” The horrified 'ling did not have the time to finish his sentence before Citrine charged past him, jumped the railing, and fell through the hole leading down to the deep labs.

“Woohooooo!” The crystal pony plummeted through the floors even as the entire hive was alerted to her presence. “Wait... how deep is this hole anyway? I didn’t think this throoo….”

Elusive Clue was idly working in his lab; discovering new metal alloys wouldn’t happen on its own! He was in the middle of mixing an experimental compound before the network connection lit up, with various 'lings screaming about a crazy pony jumping into the entrance. And then he heard it:

“....bbbbbbBUUUUCKKkkkkk....” In an instant, Citrine shot though the shaft in the center of his lab and kept heading towards the lower levels.

Elusive rolled his eyes as he used the hive connection to access the drones that controlled the lift, thinking to himself as he did, ‘Looks like department X92-12-B is going to be able to test their rapid vector system after all.’

Citrine had stopped screaming at this point, and was just free falling. ‘Eventually I’m going to go spla–” The wind was knocked out of her as an unseen force rapidly decelerated her, and then pushed her in a different direction. Now moving laterally, she was able to briefly spot a shocked 'ling’s face occasionally. Then she felt herself start to slow down, and she endeavored to get her hooves below her. If she was correct, she was going to touch down very soon.

Zavak was focused on the clipboard before a loud sound of scraping hooves made him wince. Looking over towards the intrusion, he saw Citrine grinning madly.

“Whoa! What a rush!” she said. “I’d pay to do that again!”

She then looked over to Pif who was grouped with the rest of her core changeling staff, seemingly oblivious to Citrine’s abrupt arrival. All their horns were lit as they networked, and the lesser members were starting to look exhausted from the exertion. Citrine frowned at the scientist. “Zavak! Get her out of the thing! We're going out for the night!”

“What?! She’s in the middle of an important calculation. She can’t be disturbed,” he said with finality.

“Oh, yeah?” Citrine walked over to the center of the network and looked at Pif for a few moments as a mischievous grin appeared on her face. She moved up close to Pif, stuck her tongue out, and began to lick her from the bottom of her face up to the top. Before she was even halfway up her face, Pif’s horn began flickering irregularly, and then she started screaming.

“AAAUUUGGGHHH!” Pif flailed around a bit, her concentration broken, while the other members of the group collapsed, panting hard.

“Hi, Shinybug!” Citrine grinned as Pif looked at her, eyes wide.

The changeling princess blinked. “Wha–? How did you even get down here?”

“I jumped!” Citrine said proudly.

“I... wait… what? Okay, ignoring that for a moment, I can't leave. My team and I are working on something very important and–” Citrine cut her off.

Everything you do is always vitally important according to you, but this is why you're gonna go out with me tonight.” Citrine leaned in and whispered in Pif’s ear. As she did, Pif started to blush, and then the network around her began to match her.

“And then I’ll–”

Pif pushed her away. “Okay! Enough! I don’t want to give my associates any more of that mental imagery. When did you want to go tonight?”

“Well, right now, since it's night-time already. Come on – let's go!” Citrine started to walk back toward the exit port and Pif hastily followed her. This time though, they made use of the normal transit system.

Once they had left, the associates all looked at each other. “I am so glad she came along,” the smallest 'ling panted out. “Much longer and I would have dropped.”

Zavak sighed. “It's true we're making great progress, but we're all at our limits. Maybe some time out is called for after all. It will be good for her and give us time to rest.” He looked back to the chalkboard figures. “This can't be rushed.”

 

# # #

Pif idly walked with Citrine down the path leading from laboratory, already putting out of her mind the glares that the entrance guard had given her.

“What in the Hive’s name possessed you to jump down the shaft?”

Citrine gave her a chagrined look. “I thought the platform would be waiting there like the time you brought me here to visit.”

Pif rolled her eyes. “The platform is parked where it’s taken last – in this case at one of the lower levels. It would be a waste of time and energy to always take it back to the top.”

“So what caught me?”

“The defense field. Obviously pegasi, griffons, and other winged creatures could just fly down the shaft when the platform isn’t there to block them, so there are magical security barriers in place to prevent unauthorized access.”

“Shouldn’t it just stop me then? I should’ve gone splat!” Citrine gesticulated with her hooves to add emphasis to the fact that her organs would have been splattered everywhere.

Well, if it had been a flyer, they would have been stopped hard, but not fatally. It wasn’t intended to catch people at free-fall speeds.”

“So again – why didn’t I go splat?”

“Because you have the dumb luck of being the benefactor of the research team’s experiment with using the mana fields as a rapid vector system. As soon as you were identified by the hive-mind, the team switched the fields to redirect you rather than stop you. They were ridiculously pleased with themselves when it all worked exactly as they had boasted,” Pif replied with a hint of admiration.

“Tell 'em I’d be willing to do some more testing for them. What a ride!” Citrine proclaimed with a huge grin.

Pif shook her head in amazement. “Why'd you even go to such lengths to fetch me? You've gone out of your way on a number of occasions to be with me, and I can taste your feelings, but why do you like me so much?”

Citrine shrugged. “I think you're cute, and I like you.”

Pif frowned. “That’s not much of an answer. Hell – you weren’t even fazed when I showed you my fangs! Most ponies nowadays are used to undisguised changelings and our fangs in particular, but we were back in time long before then, and you had not ever seen a changeling previously. Ponies found them scary then!”

“Heh! I like the thrill they give me. It makes you more… exciting!” Citrine whispered the last word huskily in Pif’s ear, and the ponyling blushed.

Pif hastily changed the subject. “So, what are we going to do?” she asked Citrine as the crystal pony moved a little closer to her.

“Oh, we're going to hit up my favorite tavern,” Citrine replied with a grin.

“How do you already have a favorite bar?” Pif asked.

“Well once I got situated here, I started to make friends. I can't just bug you all the time, after all!” Citrine laughed. “Sometimes there are fights at the bar, but all things considered, it's a pretty awesome place with pretty awesome griffons, some ponies, and even a few changelings.”

“It’s a long walk into town,” Pif pointed out.

“If you're tired, you can ride me,” Citrine replied with a smirk.

Pif rolled her eyes at the innuendo. “I've got a better idea.” Green fire engulfed the changeling’s hybrid form, and it was replaced by a silvery griffon – a very large griffon. Pif took off straight upwards and over the crystal pony, grabbed her around the barrel in her strong talons, and then started beating strongly towards the city lights in the distance.

“Yeehaaa!” Citrine yelled loud enough to shatter the quiet of the evening. “Now this is travelling!”

Pif’s beak dropped in a laugh before she replied, “Better show me the way, or we might just have to settle for my choice instead.”

Citrine managed to recognize landmarks from the air and guided Pif to an establishment unfamiliar to her. The changeling put Citrine down before shifting back to her normal earth pony/changeling hybrid form that she preferred. The crystal pony opened the door for Pif who looked around at the scene inside as they entered. It hardly seemed to be an upscale tavern, and she was unsure about being there when Citrine suddenly yelled out behind her.

“GUESS WHO!”

The bar staff cawed back at her, as did a few patrons. As the emotional energy that suffused the place seeped into Pif, she realized that the atmosphere was friendly and warm, which came as somewhat of a pleasant surprise to her. Even though it was crowded, they were able to make their way to the bar with little problem. One of the bartenders turned to the pair with a grin, and only then did Pif notice that it was a changeling from the Western Hive, as evidenced by his metallic blue chitin and red Mohawk mane.

“Oh it’s you,” he said to Citrine. “Oho! And it appears that you were finally able to get the girl you've been talking about out of the mind-cave, hey?”

“Yeah, and it just took a near-death experience to get it to happen. So line them up! I want to start her off easy. Let’s try a lager?” Citrine looked to Pif for approval.

“What’s a lager?” Pif asked.

The bartender just stared at Pif and then back to Citrine. “Oh, this is going to be interesting.”

Between the friendly warm atmosphere calming her down and settling her social phobias, the pint after pint of beer she had drunk, and the bands that were playing, the cozy club was getting more and more energized, and Pif was really picking up on it. It didn’t take long before she began to sway a bit on her hooves.

“Hey, Pif – do you wanna try something awesome?” the bartender asked.

“YES! Yes she does!” Citrine exclaimed as the tender moved down under the counter for a few moments, only to come up with a thin, tall glass along with a jar and a bottle.

“I know a 'ling who knows a 'ling, so I was able to get a jar of this,” he explained with a satisfied smile.

Citrine just leaned down to look at the jar, and blinked in disappointment. “So you bought jam?”

“No, Citrine, it’s not jam. It's Royal Love Gel. And this is thirty year old Eyrish whiskey. It's part of a drink that I call Royal Excellence. It’s the first of its kind,” he said with pride.

Citrine’s eyes went wide. “I want it!”

The tender put his hoof to her head to keep her away. “You can't have it. Royal Excellence is a changeling-only drink. If you drank it, you would die, end of story.” He pushed her back and she huffed in frustration. She sat back down and watched the mixologist create.

Pif just blinked and looked at the drink in front of her, then up to the bartender as he smiled and tapped it with his hoof. The love gel reacted with the whiskey and it started to shift colors like a rainbow storm.

“Now down it in one gulp,” he instructed.

Pif nodded and picked up the glass. She braced herself and then downed it rapidly. Then she let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. “Oh... oh wow... Oh WOW!” Her eyes went wide and her earth pony guise shimmered as she started moving to the music in the room.

Citrine looked back to the bartender. “How is she getting so drunk so fast?”

“As far as I can figure, the alcohol in the drink causes the love gel to be nearly instantly metabolized, so instead of minutes, you have seconds before it kicks in.”

“Another!” Pif demanded.

The bartender nodded and made a second drink for Pif who downed it instantly. He also poured a normal shot for Citrine.

Citrine eyed her drunken companion and then said to the bartender, “Better make it a double. I need to catch up… oh crap! Where did Pif go...?” Citrine looked around, then up to the stage as she heard a loud eagle cry pierce the room. She recognized the silver griffon form that Pif had worn earlier, and she was clutching a microphone tightly in her talons as if it was trying to escape her. She gave the band an encouraging grin, and they started to play something smooth and exciting.

“I'm rapidly losing control of this situation,” Citrine said, starting to make her way to the stage just as the band ramped up.

The changeling princess pointed at Citrine, singling her out in the crowd, and making her freeze. It was then that Pif began singing with her naturally synthed voice. “Baby, I'm preying on you tonight… Hunt you down and eat you alive….” She grinned, her green eyes locked on the crystal pony as the crowd cheered and moved along with the beat. Citrine gulped as Pif continued to sing.

“Baby, you think that you can hide... but I can track your scent for miles....” Pif started to move around on the stage and the crowd danced along with her.

Citrine could now actually feel the princess emitting a strong emotional field, causing the crowd to get more energetic and excited. The earth pony let herself go with the flow, deciding that even though it was not what she had planned, things were working out fine anyway.

Pif was showing a surprising talent for improvising lyrics to the band’s music, and Citrine was more than a little aroused by the allusions to sexual predation that were aimed at her. The crowd was egging her on, and feeding her more positive emotional energy while she was already drunk on the surfeit. She barely managed to finish her improv before stumbling off the stage.

Citrine steadied Pif and supported her back a table. Along the way, the changeling lost control of her transformation and slipped into her natural form without even noticing. “Okay, just sit down and take it easy for a bit. I didn’t realize that you could get so high on that stuff.” Citrine signaled to the bartender to bring over two beers. “Better stick to beer for now.”

Pif threw an arm around Citrine and spoke with words slurred almost to the point of it being nonsense, “Do you know why I like you so much, Citrine? Do you? Do you!?” She swayed, almost falling off of her chair. “It’s because you don’t expect me to be anything…. You just want me to be… I don’t need to pretend… I can… I can just be me… without holding back.... I don’t have to worry about Moms, or Dads getting on my case... or Iridia reporting me to her mom.”

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