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.



11. Chapter 7 - Royal Activities

“You have a strange idea of ‘perfect’, my dear.”

“I don’t know how my agent failed me. It was a simple task, and yet the time ripples seemed to show that I died instead before history returned to normal.”

“We are dealing with something that is both powerful and fragile. Your choices of events to influence so far have obviously been too easily circumvented by other events. Perhaps we should concentrate on the here and now?”

“No! I made our bargain to remake things my way. We will rise to power, but I will also take my revenge on those who bested me and bind my progeny to me!”

“Then choose your target well. Our resources are not without limit.”

“I will. This time I will fix things before they can go wrong.”

# # #

Luncheon had been an enjoyable affair. Queen Gilda had been happy to discuss what had been happening in her kingdom since the youths had last met her. Lucida was preoccupied chatting with Glenn, much to the amusement of her siblings. They did not have much of a chance to do anything at that time though because it would have been poor timing doing it in front of Gilda, but also because they were equally distracted by one of their dinner companions.

“…so Queen Gilda thought that if Glenn could find his special purpose in life, he would then be able to focus more on the kingdom that he would rule someday. That’s when Her Majesty contacted me. As the local member of the Cutie Mark Crusader Guild, I was thrilled to be requested to help Prince Glenn.”

“But Gabby, Glenn’s not a pony – how are you supposed to learn his special purpose without one?” Destined asked. “Not even my sister Lucida has a cutie mark, and she’s half pony!”

Gabby was totally undeterred. “I wanted a cutie mark too back when I first met the Crusaders. They showed me that a cutie mark was irrelevant, and it’s helping and understanding that’s the real point. Once they opened my eyes to that, I was proud to wear the badge of a Cutie Mark Crusader. Now the Guild has grown to include several other species, but we all have the same goal.”

“What have you learned about Glenn, then?” Pif asked curiously.

Gabby looked over at the Prince. “For starters, he’s very different from his mother, and most other griffons for that matter. He’s quiet and introspective for the most part. In fact, this is the most animated I have seen him until now. Your sister seems to have brought out some hitherto repressed parts of himself. He seems to be less inclined to squabble and fight like most young griffons, which is a very good trait for a ruler, but sets him aside from his peers.”

Blue nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Lucy has always preferred to discuss and mediate rather than argue and fight. She’s been working with Dad almost since she could talk! That’s why she’ll be House Leader one of these years.”

Gabby cocked her head curiously at the stallion. “You’re the eldest – shouldn’t that title devolve on you?”

Blue laughed. “For one, the House is not like a monarchy – the eldest does not necessarily inherit the title. For second, I have no desire to be Lord of the House. I am a warrior, and it’s my place to act on behalf of the House and its members, both at home and in the field. That’s my special purpose.”

Gabby smiled. “It’s good to see that you understand that and are comfortable with it. What about you, Epiphany?”

“Please call me Pif, and I have my own destiny. Eventually I will take over control of the Chrome Hive, but until then, I have much research that will occupy the majority of my time. That’s our Hive’s specialty, and I am quite comfortable with that too.”

Gabby chuckled. “I see that my skills won’t be needed with you two. What about you, Prince Destined?”

The alicorn looked a bit startled at being asked. “I… I’m uncomfortable with that title. I only got it as a result of a prank when I was still a young colt; now Auntie Celestia insists that I keep the title and rank.”

“So you have no desire to rule?”

“Buck, no!” Destined blurted out.

His outburst caught the attention of his mother. “Watch your language, Destined,” she admonished.

“Sorry, Mom,” Destined said sheepishly.

Gabby smiled at the exchange. “I see that you’re quite adamant, but Princess Celestia is normally wise in her decisions.” She eyed his cutie mark, noting the simple thought bubble. “Would you be more philosophically inclined?”

“If you mean, do I like to think a lot? – Yes, I do. It’s enabled me to discover new aspects of time and space, and proven… rather useful lately.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Sorry, but I can’t discuss that matter.”

“That’s a pity. It might help me guide you.”

Destined chuckled. “Maybe later when this is all over. Right now, with some exceptions, I’m not unhappy with my life.”

Gabby giggled. “I’ll give you a rain check.”

When the luncheon was finished and everyone was starting to get up from the table, Celestia stepped over to House Path youths.

“Destined, Epiphany, would you mind joining your sister for this afternoon’s talks with the Griffonstone delegation?”

“Me?” Destined asked, a stunned look on his face.

“A Prince of Equestria should get some experience with these matters,” Celestia explained.

“But Auntie, you know I have no interest in these things!”

“Sometimes we all must do things that we don’t enjoy, and it’s important that you have some personal knowledge of what happens at these meetings. One day you might be called upon to act on Equestria’s behalf.”

“Not like I’ve already been doing that lately,” Destined muttered.

“What was that?” Celestia asked.

“Nothing. Okay, you win.”

Pif patted his back. “Cheer up, Des. I’d like to get back to my work too, but the Princess has a point. Besides,” she added in a whisper, “we can see what Lucida and Glenn do during the meeting.”

The corner of Destined’s mouth turned up slightly. “Yeah, there’s that.”

Blue asked, “Do you need me, Princess?”

Celestia shook her head. “You may stay if you wish, but we won’t be discussing anything of relevance to you today.”

“No thanks. Cinder and I are going to go check out something. We have some catching up to do too.”

“I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your recent adventures later when my sister is up to hear them at the same time.”

“We’ll see you later then, Princess.” Blue gave her a short bow, then he and Cinder left.

Citrine said, “What about me? Can I stay with Pif?”

Pif looked at her companion in surprise. “Won’t you be bored to tears?”

“If you can stick it out, I can too. I’ll keep you company.”

Pif smiled gratefully and hugged the crystal pony who grinned in response. “Companions through thick and thin, hey?”

“Yeah, companions,” Citrine agreed.

Destined shook his head and wondered how even an emotivore could be so oblivious.

# # #

Blue and Cinder stared at the deserted storage shed.

“Are you sure this is the right address?” Cinder asked.

“Absolutely,” Blue replied.

The shed was very obviously not the Doctor’s workshop.

“He’s done it again, hasn’t he?” Cinder stated with resignation.

Blue sighed. “Yep. I think it’s going to take Des to figure this one out.”

Cinder nodded. “Agreed. Let’s go before our heads explode.”

Without a word, Blue turned and headed back to the main street with Cinder following close behind. First stop after this would be a shop to buy some aspirin to deal with his headache.

# # #

That evening, Celestia met with Luna and House Path to discuss the latest time adventure. Twilight was summing up.

“While there was little doubt that Chrysalis was behind the first attempt to change history, this second attempt virtually seals the deal. Both attempts were clearly made to further her ambitions. Unfortunately, we still have not acquired any information about how she is accomplishing this other than it appears that a male agent is involved. Worse yet, we can be sure that she won’t give up trying to change history. We can only be grateful that Doctor Whooves seems able and willing to consistently help deal with the effects of time-meddling and enable a team to go fix the problem.”

“The Doctor is a mystery in himself,” Pif said. “How is he able to isolate us from the effects of the changes to history, and how does he move his workshop around like that?”

“Some form of powerful magic, I suppose,” Lucida replied.

Destined shook his head. “I can’t be sure, but I don’t detect such strong magical potential about him. The one thing that does impress me is that he seems to know a lot more than he’s telling.”

“Perhaps I should summon the good Doctor to explain himself,” Luna suggested.

“Good luck finding him,” Blue grumbled.

Celestia gave them one of her enigmatic smiles. “I believe that the Doctor should be left to his own devices. He has been known to help Equestria on more than one occasion. He tends to show up when he’s really needed.”

“But isn’t he supposed to be just a clock-maker in Ponyville?” Twilight asked. “He’s been there since I moved to the town.”

“So that’s what he’s been doing with himself lately,” Celestia said with a smile. “It’s been a while since we had tea together.”

“You know the Doctor?” Lucida asked.

“For quite some time now,” Celestia confirmed.

Lucida gave the Princess a suspicious glance. “How long?”

Celestia look thoughtful for a moment. “Hmm… I would say that we first met over twelve hundred years ago.”

“What?!” several exclaimed.

“But he’s not an alicorn!” Lucida objected.

“No, he’s not,” Celestia replied with equanimity.

“But… but how?”

“You are dealing with a stallion who has some mastery over time. Perhaps that’s the answer you seek? Or perhaps not. I do not know the answer either. I do suggest that you listen well if he tells you something.”

“If we could find him to ask,” Blue griped once more.

Celestia giggled. “Be patient, Blue Streak. Not all answers come so neatly.”

“Is there anything you can suggest, Princess?”

“Beyond the obvious – no. You can only try to be prepared to leave on a mission at any moment.”

Blue nodded. “I’m already always carrying the time vortex generator. I’m just going to make sure that I have some other equipment within hoof’s reach from now on. I was caught short last time.”

“I’ll be studying up some useful spells,” Destined added. “The invisibility spell was invaluable this time, so who knows what will come in handy next time?”

Celestia said, “I think that covers everything for this debriefing. I suggest you all get a good rest and enjoy a day off tomorrow.”

“Amen to that,” Blue said fervently.

# # #

After Spike served breakfast to everyone the next morning, the family sat around the breakfast table and discussed what their plans were for the day. The ongoing talks at Canterlot meant that Twilight, Path, and Free were still tied up there, and Lucida wished to continue being involved. Pif wanted to get back to her think tank, but was firmly reminded that she was supposed to be relaxing.

“But my work does relax me!” Pif protested.

Citrine cuddled up to her and said suggestively, “I can think of a more fun thing to do than work.”

Pif’s cheeks colored as she stared at the crystal pony. “Wh… what are you talking about, Citrine?” she asked nervously, conscious of several pairs of eyes and ears watching and listening for the response.

“Ooh, something that involves a lot of grasping and moaning and cries of joy,” Citrine said breathily, her muzzle mere inches from Pif’s.

Twilight was staring at the two, her face turning even redder than Pif’s, while Free looked like he was struggling hard to keep a straight face. Path had one eyebrow raised, gazing suspiciously at Citrine.

“Huh? Wha-? I d-don’t know what you m-mean,” Pif stammered.

Citrine grabbed Pif by the arm and started to drag her out of the room. “There’s a hoofball game starting soon, and we’re going to it!” she said gleefully.

“But… but I don’t know how to pl-a-a-a-y….” came Pif’s voice from the hallway as she was carried away by her over-enthusiastic companion.

Free fell out of his chair, laughing. Path just shook his head at Citrine’s antics, while Twilight nearly fainted in relief.

Because they were more used to Citrine’s shenanigans, Blue, Cinder, Destined, and Lucida merely grinned. The dragoness had a bit more to say though.

“I wonder why Pif is so blind to Citrine’s affections? It is clear to me that Citrine is wooing Pif in her own… uniquefashion. Citrine should be forthright and declare her intentions.”

Blue nuzzled his mate. “We can’t all be dragons, love. Ponies have to do things their own way, and it’s easy to forget that Pif is a changeling, and reacts differently to either of us.”

“It still does not explain why an emotivore cannot comprehend the love that is being sent her way.”

Free smiled and said, “You said it yourself, Cinder. Pif is not only an emotivore, but our hive specifically finds love the most palatable of positive emotions. She’s consuming Citrine’s affection without even noticing it, and so she’s only reacting to the surface observations. That’s the drawback to the changeling species – we have to be practically overloaded with love before we feel it, rather than eat it. I was lucky in that my parents were exceptionally loving, and Path and I were such good friends that we became soulmates. I’ve always had enough love to feel it too. Pif has always had a loving family, but she went astray for a while because of various reasons, but one significant factor was emotional confusion. I reckon Citrine’s unorthodox approach might succeed where more straightforward ones would fail. She certainly manages to get and hold Pif’s attention.”

“She certainly got mine,” Twilight muttered.

Free chuckled and pulled Twilight over to nibble on her ear, saying, “Love you too, Sparkles.”

She slapped him with a hoof and blushed. “Not at the table, Free!”

The others laughed, used to the couple’s relationship.

Destined changed the subject before his mother melted down from blushing. “I’m headed to the spa. I feel in the mood for a bit of pampering after the past few days.”

Blue said, “Mind if I tag along, Des? I’m still regaining my strength from the last time trip, and I’m in the mood to relax.”

“Be my guest. It’s not as if it will bother me.”

Blue and Cinder merely looked at each other and grinned.

# # #

Destined was disappointed to find that Silk was not at the spa that day.

“It’s Silk’s day off, darling,” Lotus told the alicorn. “You will find him at the hoofball field today,” she added slyly.

Destined brightened as he recalled Silk’s interests. “Thanks, Lotus. I’ll come back for a later session.”

“Have fun,” Blue told his brother. “I still want to relax though.”

Destined grinned and waved goodbye. As soon as he was out of the spa, he spread his wings and hastened to the hoofball field. He spotted Silk and made a careful landing as close by as he could before trotting up to greet the bat-pony.

Silk’s face lit up from behind the sunshades that the thestral wore to protect his eyes from the strong daylight. “Des! Great to see you! Where’ve you been?”

“Unexpected mission that took longer than expected. Sorry that I missed my last appointment.”

“Well, you’re here now, and your timing is good. Want to help out as usual?”

“Of course! I just wish I hadn’t forgotten my cap.”

“No problem! I have a few spares here suitable for horn-heads like you.” He rummaged around in his sports bag and pulled out a Ponyville Pounders cap. Destined’s magic took it and slotted his horn through the hole to settle the cap on his head. Silk nodded in satisfaction. “Good! Now you look properly official. Ready to get to work?”

Destined grinned. “After you, boss!”

As much as Destined liked hoofball, he was terrible at playing it. Until he met Silk, he had always been just a spectator. Then he discovered that Silk volunteered his services as a physical therapist for the Ponyville team, and the bat-pony had invited the alicorn to join him one day. Now Destined helped Silk and used his healing magic on anypony who was injured during play, and helped out the rest of the time with all the other things that a non-professional team needed doing but relied on volunteers to fulfill. Destined still got to watch most of the game, but with the added satisfaction of helping out the local team.

In fact, Silk had opened his eyes to a number of things that needed doing in the rapidly growing township of Ponyville. The bat-pony was generous with his spare time, helping out many causes, and Destined had taken to partnering with him lately. He had once commented to Silk that he wondered when the thestral ever found time to relax. Silk had merely grinned and replied, “Helping ponies is what I do to relax.” Ever since then, Destined had tried to emulate the masseur, and spent a lot of time with him. It was no wonder that his siblings all thought that he had the hots for Silk. It was all quite innocent, really. No ulterior motives whatsoever. Nope. Not at all.

# # #

“The negotiations with Queen Gilda have concluded,” Twilight told those in the family who did not already know after dinner that evening. “We will be headed back to Griffonia after dinner. Captain Kerbarok has been notified to have the Skyshark ready for departure in two hours.”

“What?!” Epiphany exclaimed. “I’ve only just resumed my research at the hive!”

“Pif, dear, you can do that at your lab back at the House.”

“But I will lose all those hours in travelling time!”

“I’m sorry, but this was planned long before you made your reappearance. We have obligations there, too.”

“But I don’t. I can continue working with my team right here at the Chrome Hive.”

“Pif, with all that has been going on lately with your time travels, you really need to keep together with your siblings at all times. Blue needs to resume his training with Warfist, so he can’t stay here either.”

“Des can teleport me!”

Destined rolled his eyes. “You know I can teleport myself that distance, but not with a passenger. One day I will have the power, but not yet.”

“Even I can’t do that,” Twilight added. “Celestia and Luna have had centuries to grow in power to let them teleport others those kind of distances, but I haven’t yet. Destined might be a prodigy in this field, but you’re still asking too much of him so soon.”

Pif slumped in her chair and sulked.

“Cheer up, Pif,” Citrine said, giving the ponyling a cuddle. “We can enjoy some time together before you get lost in your work. I won’t bug you all day after we get back,” she promised.

Pif blushed a little. “Okay,” she said meekly.

“There will be another travelling with us,” Free said. “Prince Glenn requested enrollment at House Path.”

“He did?” Lucida’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “What did Queen Gilda have to say about that?”

“She’s quite enamored with the idea. She’s been trying to get Glenn more interested in his future duties, and she thinks that this might help him learn more to that end.”

“I wonder what changed his mind about this sort of thing?” Lucida pondered.

Pif nearly choked on her drink. “Gah! Are you dense, Lucy? He likes you! He can barely take his eyes off you!”

“What? No, I would have noticed,” Lucida scoffed.

“He’s the quietest griffon that I have ever met, and he tried to hide it, but he can’t fool me. He has a raging crush on you!”

“It’s true,” Destined said with a smug smile. “Looks like you have a coltfriend.”

“He’s not a colt!” Lucida pointed out needlessly, desperate to deflect the teasing that she saw coming.

“And your point is…?” Free said drolly.

Lucida’s eyes darted between her dad and mom, and wisely decided to shut up.

Path tried hard to repress a smile. His daughter might be an adult, but she still had a bit of growing up to do. To take the pressure off of her though, he changed the subject. “There’s one other that you’re going to have to get used to seeing more frequently.”

“Who’s that, Dad?” Lucida asked with relief.

“Watchful Eyes.”

Lucida blinked in confusion. Watchful Eyes was the pony name for the changeling guard that Carpacia had assigned to protect little Fidelitas when she was visiting with Path. “What has Fifi’s guardian got to do with us?”

“Carpacia is concerned about these time attacks, and since they can affect the future of her children, and especially Fifi in this case, she has decided that when Fifi is with her, Watchful will keep her eyes on you instead.”

Blue frowned. “Doesn’t she think that I am good enough?”

“I told Carpacia that, but she reasonably pointed out that another warrior in the group can only be of benefit.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Blue conceded.

“I like her,” Cinder commented.

“Me too,” Destined agreed.

Lucida shrugged. “As long as she doesn’t get in our way.”

“She was watching Destined, Pif, and Citrine today at the hoofball match. Did any of you notice her?” Path asked the three.

“A changeling deliberately trying to be inconspicuous? Hardly!” Destined scoffed.

Path smiled at Lucida. “I don’t think you have to worry about her getting in the way. That said, I would like you all to invite her to be included in your social events. That will make it easier to do her job, and at the same time instill some of our values in her.”

“Still trying to influence the Red Hive, Dad?” Lucida returned the smile with a knowing grin.

Path shrugged. “Carpacia is trying to gain something from me, and I’m trying to gain something back from her; I think that’s a perfectly reasonable arrangement.”

“I’ll just head over to the hive and fetch my team,” Pif said, getting up from the table, Citrine following suit.

“We’ll go pack our stuff,” Blue said as he and Cinder also got up to follow the others.

Twilight got up and looked at Lucida, “Shall we go make Glenn welcome?” she teased.

“M-o-o-o-m!” Lucida protested with a renewed blush.

Destined smiled in satisfaction, very happy to have the heat off him for a change.

# # #

For a griffon who had spent virtually his whole life in Griffonstone, Griffonia was a bit of a culture shock with its radically different society. While griffons all over the world tended to be aggressive and proud, the way it was expressed was very different from that he was used to. His mother had taken the lessons of friendship quite well, and she had strongly influenced Griffonstone society since being crowned Queen of the city-state and allied itself with Equestria. The martial attitude and honor system of Griffonia were uncomfortably alien to the young prince, and what was expected of him as royalty was even worse.

Fortunately for Glenn, Lucida had gotten over the teasing about being the object of his attention, and had focused her efforts on helping him fit in between her normal duties. By the time a second Friday informal dinner had rolled around, the young cock had begun to enjoy himself. Without the constant pressure of his mother’s expectations, he was able to explore his own interests and take advantage of the subjects that House Path had to offer.

He almost freaked out though when Flix brought Discord over to meet him. The Spirit of Chaos was most amused by the griffon’s reaction, and naturally made the situation worse until Lucida came over and scolded the draconequus. Glenn was in awe of Lucida’s courage, and if he had not already been infatuated with the hippogriff, this certainly sealed the deal. To her surprise, Lucida gained herself a dedicated student from that moment.

One of Glenn’s strongest supporters was Blue Streak. After, being well-rested after the trip back to Griffonia, Blue had thrown himself back into intense training with General Warfist, conscious of the extremely high standards that the martial expert had set for him. To relax after those sessions though, Blue would always seek out his siblings and their companions, and Glenn had always found the older earth pony to be willing to chat and share a laugh with him. He admired the straightforward and honest friendliness of Blue, while in turn, Blue liked how the griffon refused to conform to stereotypes, and never failed to follow his kind impulses. They rapidly became firm friends.

The one that was taking the longest to blend in was ironically the changeling. Watchful Eyes, despite taking the form of a nondescript unicorn, was too focused on her assignment as a guardian for the group to spend time actually fitting in with them. This was despite the fact that absolutely nothing of significance happened for several weeks after their last adventure, and they were beginning to wonder if Chrysalis was ever going to try again. Finally Citrine got tired of Watchful’s aloofness and hatched a plan with the others when they next visited Canterlot.

After the evening meal, Blue, Cinder, Pif, Citrine, Destined, Lucida, and Glenn excused themselves from the table en masse, forcing Watchful to hastily follow suit. To her surprise, they were all waiting for her in the hall beyond. The emotions that she could taste from them were very suspicious.

“What’s going on? I need to know what you have in mind,” Watchful stated seriously.

Citrine stepped forward. “We’re going out to a nightclub, and you’re going to join us.”

Watchful drew herself up stiffly. “I am on duty, Lady Citrine!”

Normally Citrine hated to be addresses as ‘Lady’, a title that the Red Changeling insisted on using because of the crystal pony’s high status with Queen Carpacia and the Red Hive. Tonight though, she intended to make full advantage of it. “Watchful, as a Friend of the Hive, and favored by your Queen, I am ordering you to let your mane down and enjoy the evening with us!”

The Red Changeling was conflicted – she had her orders, but Citrine’s had genuine authority also by her hive’s own code of ethics. She stood there uncertainly for a long moment before she rationalized that she would still be guarding them while at the nightclub. In fact, with all of them in one place, she could do so even better, rather than assigning priorities. Yes, that would work! “As you wish, Lady Citrine,” she replied with her most sincere smile (#3 was always a winner).

Citrine grinned. “That’s the spirit. C’mon, let’s go!”

As Watchful followed, she had to wonder about the taste of deviousness oozing from the crystal pony.

Destined teleported away, but joined up with the group again at their destination, accompanied by Silk Touch.

The club was the largest in Canterlot, and featured several sections such as the dance floor with blood-stirring, pounding music, a bar, and a quiet restaurant. The establishment sought to be a one-stop place for an evening of entertainment, and it attracted a huge number of the working class of the city, and not a few of the nobility also. It was favored by more than just ponies also, and several griffons, changelings, and even a couple of minotaurs could be seen there. Having already eaten their meals, no one went to the restaurant. Cinder and Blue immediately headed for the bar. Silk took off with Destined to hit the dance floor though. Glenn was a little put off by the loud music, so Lucida took him to the lounge where it was quieter, but they could still get some entertainment and a drink. That left Citrine and Pif with Watchful.

The changeling guardian had not anticipated the group splitting up, and was torn as to what she should do. As the power and the guidance for the time travelling, Blue Streak and Destined Path were her primary concerns, but they had gone in opposite directions, and in this crowd, she would have great difficulty trying to split her attention between them. Her mind was quickly made up for her though.

“Watchful, you’re with us!” Citrine said emphatically, grabbing her by the hoof and dragging her towards the dance floor.

“I was trained as guardian, not a dancer!” Watchful protested.

“Anyone can dance, and that includes anyling,” Citrine replied, undeterred. “I taught Pif to dance, and I am going to do the same for you.”

Watchful gulped nervously, and wished she was facing a horde of assassins instead.

# # #

The group had gathered again around one of the larger tables in a corner of the lounge after the dancers had tired themselves out and joined up with the others. Cinder had indulged heavily in the alcohol, and was currently rambling to the others about relationships.

“Don’t think I don’t see the hens all giving my Blue the eye! Just because he comes from a herd, doesn’t mean that we’re starting one too! Blue’s mine!” she growled into her beer mug before taking a swig.

Despite the best of intentions, Pif had gotten quite drunk too. She giggled, transformed into a dragon matching her natural colors, put on a mock serious scowl, and grabbed Citrine. “Nobody is taking my crystal pony away!” she declared in imitation of Cinder’s exact tone.

Citrine laughed and smooched Pif’s scaly cheek. “I’m a dragon treasure!” she declared.

That made Cinder snort and chuckle.

Destined was feeling quite mellow, and completely forgot that he was in denial of his own feelings. He toyed with Silk’s mane and said, “I know h–hic– how you feel, Pif.”

Silk unfurled one of his leathery wings and enfolded Destined with it, drawing the alicorn to him with a happy smile. Destined nuzzled Silk on the cheek and then his chest, oblivious to the grins of his siblings.

Lucida’s smile soon faded though, and she said glumly, “You’re all lucky. I’d like to meet one suitor that didn’t have his beak up his arse. They all brag about the honor and status that they could bring to the House. What Iwant seems to rate rather low on their list of expectations.”

“At least the Griffonian status system lets you reject them,” Blue reminded her. “Besides, it’s not all their fault that their kind is all you see. You spend too much time on your career, and not enough on socializing. You’ve become almost as bad as Pif before Citrine knocked some sense into her.”

“Gee, thanks, Blue,” Pif said with a pout.

“Do you know that you transformed into a male dragon?” Blue asked with a smirk.

Pif blinked owlishly before glancing down. “I did?”

“I’m fine with this,” Citrine declared, her hoof stroking Pif’s slick hide.

Lucida was about to protest that she socialized a lot more than that when the table was overshadowed by several uninvited guests.

“Hey, pretty bird, how about ditching these losers and come join some real warriors.”

Everyone turned their attention to the newcomers – three very large male griffon warriors. Cinder snorted contemptuously, while Blue’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Citrine was already reaching surreptitiously for an improvised weapon, but Lucida merely rolled her eyes at the one who had spoken to her. He was the very personification of the jerks she had just been complaining about.

“Let me know when a real warrior comes in,” she replied.

That did not sit well with any of the griffons, but especially not the one speaking. He fluffed up his feathers and partially spread his wings in a threatening manner. “You don’t get to talk to a warrior like that, hen!” he snarled.

Lucida had to remind herself that these were not Griffonians who, even if they were jerks, nevertheless adhered to a strict honor code. These were not even Griffonstone subjects. No, these were probably either Canterlot residents, or more likely visitors from one of the Equestrian eyries. “Fair warning, we are warrior-scholars from House Path, and we are capable of dealing with obnoxious fools.”

All three griffons hissed in anger, and their leader advanced menacingly. “Never heard of this House of yours, and I certainly won’t take your insults.”

Watchful was about to take action, despite knowing that the House Path members probably had a distinct advantage in fighting skills. It was her task to see that no harm came to them though, and that meant that she would be the first to come to Lucida’s defense…. Only, she wasn’t.

Glenn had gotten up and put himself between the warrior and Lucida. He frowned at the belligerent griffon and said, “I am Prince Glenn of Griffonstone, and I do not like your attitude. Leave the Lady Lucida alone.”

The warrior stared down at the much smaller griffon and smirked. “You’re not my prince, puny hatchling. Get out of my way before I break your wings.”

“I don’t think so.” Glenn flicked his wing at the warrior.

“What’s that supposed to – .”

The warrior collapsed to the floor. His companions stared at him in shock, and then disbelievingly at the small griffon who calmly regarded them back before leaning over and removing a tiny dart from the fallen griffon’s neck.

“Did you know that there is a newt in Griffonstone that secretes a paralyzing toxin?” Glenn asked conversationally as he carefully replaced the dart in a small pouch. “No, he won’t die, but for the next half a day, he will be absolutely helpless. If you choose to continue your hostilities, I will not hesitate to have you join him, whereupon you can reconsider your attitudes towards beautiful ladies.”

The warriors were not completely stupid. Each grabbed a foreleg of their companion who was already drooling on the floor, and dragged him away.

Lucida gaped in awe at Glenn. He was much younger than her, too young even to be allowed alcohol, but he had stood up to warriors twice his size and not only faced them calmly and bravely, but also disabled one in mere moments while cowing the other two. Suddenly she began seeing a lot more in the prince. He might be a youth, but he definitely was not stupid, nor lacking in moral fiber. And most certainly didn’t have his beak up his arse!

As Glenn seated himself once more, Lucida leaned over and stroked her beak against Glenn’s cheek feathers. “Thank you, Glenn. That was much better than starting a fight in this club.”

Glenn’s blush nearly burned through his plumage, but he didn’t hesitate to return the familiarity.

“Well, I think we’ve achieved a lot tonight,” Citrine declared with a grin. “We’ve taught a changeling to dance, and while she’s as graceful as a drunken loon, she put a lot of heart and effort into it, so I give her a pass. And we seem to have scored a bonus in opening Lucy’s eyes to the blindingly obvious.”

“Oh, shut up,” Lucida said, turning away to avoid seeing her siblings’ knowing grins.

Destined got to his hooves, swaying a little. “Yeah! Great night! Let’s go –hic– home now.” He lit up his horn and started a teleport spell.

“No!” several of the group cried in alarm.

However, Silk had already got up too and he licked Destined’s horn, disrupting the spell matrix.

“Hey! Why –hic– why’d ya do that?” the alicorn whined.

“Friends don’t let friends teleport drunk,” Silk replied with a serious smile.

“Thanks, Silk,” Cinder said. “Shard knows where we would have ended up if you hadn’t stopped Des.”

“Who taught you to –hic– to do that?” Destined asked sulkily.

“Your dads did; they seem to know you quite well.”

Blue chuckled. “I think I taught them to watch out for drunken shenanigans back when I was a teen.”

Destined stuck his tongue out at his older brother. “Spoil–hic–sport.”

Cinder got up and said, “I’m all for calling it a night. At least for the nightclub anyway,” she added, giving Blue a smoldering look.

The others agreed and got up from the table.

As they started leaving the lounge, Citrine said to Pif, “Are you going to stay a dragon?”

“Huh? Oh, right. Umm… do you want me to?”

Citrine grinned. “Why not? Sounds like fun.”

Pif was not so inebriated that she did not realize what kind of fun the crystal pony was referring to. She blushed a little, but to be honest with herself… or more accurately right now… himself, he was more than a little curious too.

# # #

Blue did not get to sleep for a while after getting home, but he was well and truly worn out by then. He slipped easily into slumber, and before long, he started dreaming.

At first it was the usual random nonsense of a typical dream, but suddenly the dreamscape faded and darkened, leaving just the glow of a phantom fire. Slowly the ghostly flames lit up a familiar sight – the Dragon Seer in her yurt, and his own younger self swaying on his hooves before collapsing on a pile of soft pelts. The fire suddenly flared up as the Seer faded from view. Emerging from the pyre was a fire pony, its pelt blinding white, and its eyes electric blue.

The older Blue Streak gasped in recognition of the old memory as the vision he had witnessed replayed before him once more.

The fire pony fixed young Blue with its piercing stare. “Do Not Fail!” its voice boomed out.

“W-who are you…?” Blue squeaked out.

Do Not Yield!” the white fire pony bellowed.

“Yield to what…?” Blue whispered.

The Darkness. Do Not Give In!” it bellowed louder.

“Give in to what?” Blue whimpered.

“What could have been,” it growled before it moved in closer to Blue, to whisper something in his ear. “Live... Win... Die...”

Young Blue collapsed unconscious, and his older self thought that would be the end of the memory, but the fire pony shocked him by turning its gaze upon him. It swelled up in size until it looked more like a dragon than a pony. It leaned over him, and Blue could feel the heat of its breath.

“YOU ARE STILL WEAK!” the being boomed as Blue involuntarily stumbled back a few paces. The fire creature stepped out of the pyre and drew closer once more.

“EXPAND YOUR STRENGTH!” The dreamscape shuddered with the power of that voice.

“Who… who are you?” Blue yelled out, unfamiliar panic gripping him.

“YOUR ONLY CHANCE!” the fire pony-dragon bellowed one last time before exploding in a blinding flash, shattering the dreamscape, leaving Blue tumbling dazed and disoriented through endless nothingness.

# # #

Luna had always taken her duties as Princess of the Night very seriously, and her role of the Guardian of Dreams especially. Since her return to Equestria though, her duties with the Night Court had slowly grown until it had made it difficult to keep up with both roles. Fortunately she had a fairly adept apprentice in Destined Path, and he had been a considerable help to her lately. Tonight though, the dreamscape served the second purpose for which he and Luna met up there. The young alicorn was amazingly talented, but still naïve and inexperienced in other matters, in particular personal ones. To the point – Destined was just now discovering his sexuality, and his true feelings for a certain bat-pony, and he had turned to his Auntie Luna for reassurance as his waking self was in no condition to do so right then.

“But I’m nineteen,” he wailed. “Why am I only feeling these things now?”

Luna put a reassuring foreleg around Destined’s shoulders. “Thou art an alicorn, Destined. For our kind, many of life’s processes are slowed down. It’s why my heat took so long to come around, and it’s why the effects of puberty are only now having their effect upon thee. Thou art mentally a young adult, but emotionally only a young teen. Flurry Heart had much the same problem, although the nature of her mother and being female made for differences.”

“Then are you saying that what I am feeling for Silk is just hormones? I’m just a randy colt?”

Luna grinned. “Well, there is a bit of that too, but thine adult part is better able to judge what is happening to thee than a mere colt would. No, I believe that the confusion about thy feelings is merely because thou hast never had them before, and perhaps thou had been expecting something different. Most colts grow up with the expectations of finding the mare of his dreams, but thou hast found a stallion instead.”

Destined stared at her for a long time before he gulped and nodded. “Yes, you’re right,” he said softly. “I really like Silk. He’s great to talk to, and I like working with him when he goes and does one of his charity events. I thought of him as a great buddy, but tonight…. Tonight I just wanted to cuddle and fondle him. I know it was the alcohol that loosened my inhibitions, but what does that say about me? What did he think of me with my hooves all over him?”

“Did he shrink from thee?” Luna asked pointedly.

“No. He just smiled and petted me a little.”

“It seems to me that mayhap he has feelings for thee too.”

“How can I know that he has those feelings for me? How do I know that he wasn’t just humoring a drunkard?”

“Ah, my young apprentice, even I cannot know that. Mere centuries of experience does not mean that one cannot make mistakes and interpret feelings incorrectly. Take it from one who had to learn the hard way. One piece of advice that I can give thee though – do not shy away from thy feelings. If there is something true between Silk and thee, give it a chance to bloom and grow.”

“You have no problems with me falling for a stallion?”

“Love is love, Destined. Although Long Path is my Herd Stallion, I joined thy parents’ herd with the expectation that I would love both the mares and stallions that comprised it, or hens and cocks too I suppose I should add. I have had no cause to regret my decision.”

“Then perhaps you can tell me….”

The dreamscape shuddered, drawing the attention of both alicorns.

“Our discussion must wait, Destined. Something odd is happening.”

“I agree,” Destined said as he got to his hooves to face the direction that they both sensed the disturbance coming from.

Soon they approached a sphere of darkness that was the source of the turmoil. Luna reached out with one hoof to enter the dream, only to be halted as a dragoness covered in runes materialized out of it.

The dragoness gave Luna a respectful bow. “My apologies, Your Majesty, but I can’t allow you to enter the dream as yet. My mistress is not yet done.”

Luna frowned before recognizing the dragoness. “Thou art Altered Seer, apprentice to the Seer of Cinder’s clan, and those are Concentration Runes, Centering Runes, and Disconnection Runes, enabling you to remain in and control parts of the dreamscape. What doth thy mistress do that disturbs it so much?”

“She is guiding Blue Streak in a vision, one that portends the need for him to grow. I do not pretend to understand its meaning, as visions always relate most to those experiencing them, but I do know that its urgency has grown since the first time he experienced it in the Dragonlands.”

“Why doth a Dragon Seer feel she has so much claim over my nephew? Hath he not myself and other ponies to guide him?” Luna asked, her expression growing thunderous.

Altered Seer bowed her head. “With respect, Queen Nocturne, Blue Streak became so much more than just a pony since his first visit to the Dragonlands. We not only have the right, but also the responsibility to guide his path, especially as my mistress has had her own vision of what would happen if Blue Streak does not achieve his full potential.”

“I would have words with thy mistress. If this is of such great importance, my sister and I should know about it.”

“I believe you already do, and it involves him.” Altered Seer looked at Destined.

Destined blinked in surprise at having the focus turn on him, and Luna’s eyes widened in realization.

“Thou art talking of the time-meddling! How come thou to know of such things?”

“As I said, my mistress had a vision, and now its events are coming to a head. The fate of Equus itself might come down to what Blue might or can do when the time is right, and Destined Path might soon earn his name.”

“And what might or could Blue Streak do to determine Equus’ fate?”

Altered Seer smiled. “As my mistress says – ‘Everything’.” The dragoness then backed up and faded into the dream sphere.

Luna was lost in thought for several long moments, and Destined was too confused to offer any comments. Abruptly the dark sphere evaporated, leaving a blue earth pony endlessly falling, although simultaneously never going anywhere, a dichotomy that only made sense in the dreamscape. Luna’s horn glowed and snatched Blue from the air and placed him down on his hooves in front of them.

“Wha–? Luna? Des? What’s going on?” Blue asked in confusion.

“Thou didst just have an important vision, I believe,” Luna replied. “Dost thou recall it?”

“I… Yes, I do. I’m not sure what it means though.”

“Such is the nature of visions, Blue Streak. Perhaps if thou dost wish, we can discuss it with thee.”

Blue grinned gratefully. “Every bit helps, Auntie.”

“That is what family is for, my dear nephew.”

# # #

“…so Luna had a talk with the Head Seer later, and they both agree that I need to increase my power storage for some reason that remains unclear, but they believe is related to the time-travelling that we’ve been doing lately,” Blue explained to the others at breakfast the next morning. “All the jumps that we’ve done so far have required me to take in a lot of power, and I’ve noticed that each has become a little easier each time. The Seer is worried though that my progress is a little slow, or at least the vision seems to support that idea. If Luna and Celestia can’t find a way of expanding my ability, then she wants me to come to the Dragonlands for training under her.”

Lucida frowned. “But we all need to stick together in case of another history change.”

“Yeah, I know, and I don’t like the idea either.”

At that moment, Celestia walked into the dining room. “Good morning, everypony. How are you doing today?”

“Aside from pounding headaches, not too bad I guess, Auntie,” Destined replied.

“Good, because I have a task for you, Prince Destined.”

“Uh oh,” Destined said with a gulp. He hated it when his aunt addressed him by title – nothing ever good happened then. “What task, Auntie Tia?” he asked with a nervous smile.

“Representatives from over much of Equus have gathered to discuss what to do about the growing hostilities from the Zebrican kingdoms. Even the smaller independent tribes are turning against the traders who have dealt with them for decades. I will be unable to hold Day Court today, so I am delegating that responsibility to you.”

Destined’s jaw dropped and his widened like moons. “Me?” he squeaked.

“Yes, you,” Celestia said with a patient smile. “You are a Prince of the Realm, and I think it’s time that you got a taste of real responsibility and experience.”

“But… but I don’t know anything about that sort of thing!” Destined protested in a pleading tone.

“True, but I still need you to use your judgement on several petitions that are due to be heard today. Of course, even I have my advisors to provide me with up-to-date information when I hold court, so if you perhaps choose a suitable advisor of your own…?” the alicorn added slyly.

Destined’s eyes immediately turned to Lucida. “Lucy! Be my advisor!”

Lucida put on a very serious face and saluted. “Yes, Your Highness!”

“Aw, don’t give me that crap, Lucy. I’m asking you, not commanding you.”

Lucida burst out into laughter. “I’m just winding you up, Des. I’d be delighted to act as your advisor. It will be interesting to see how this compares to moderating negotiations.”

Celestia said, “There is nothing of huge importance on the docket today, so I don’t expect that you will be too burdened. The Court Recorder will assist you in keeping things running smoothly as per standard protocol, and if all else fails, you’re a prince – delegate responsibility appropriately.” She turned her attention to Twilight, Path, and Free. “The conference is due to start on the hour,” she reminded them. “I suggest that you be prepared to deal with all the ambassadors. Herding cats will be a lot easier.”

“Lucky Roseclaw,” Free griped. “She gets to stay at home in Griffonia and mind business there instead of dealing with this lot.”

“Your fault for being royalty,” Path cheerfully reminded him.

“I never asked to be a Queen. It’s all Chrysalis’ fault,” Free concluded with his standard scapegoat.

Path shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe Chrysalis is behind the Zebrican uprising?”

“Wouldn’t that be something?” Free conceded. “I’d have a great excuse to thump her again.”

The others all chuckled at Free and started heading off to make preparations for the day, some more reluctantly than others.

# # #

The throne room did not make Destined nervous; after all these years, it was almost as familiar to him as his home. It was getting up onto the throne itself that was freaking him out. Even though by both blood and decree, he was a genuine Prince of Equestria, he still felt that like an impostor taking Celestia’s place. The very simple crown that was his badge of office seemed to weigh heavily upon him, and the golden hoofguards that he wore made him feel ridiculously overdressed. Lucida’s ever-growing smile at her brother’s discomfort was only making things worse. At least the Court Recorder and the Royal Guards were doing their usual efficient jobs, leaving him less to worry about. It was the remainder that was making him break out into a sweat.

Destined looked nervously over to his left where Lucida had propped herself next to the throne, holding various documents pertaining to the first petition. She had composed herself, but he knew she was still grinning at him.

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