Life, Love, and Death in the House of Path

The House of Path has grown to be an enormous influence in Equestria, Griffonia, and other nations, and has gained many unusual members. But with such a varied membership, comes some unusual circumstances. Free Agent stunned the hives with his deviant mutant nature, but can a normal changeling queen learn to love? When an alicorn's dearest friends die, how does she cope? What are the new generation like? How does a pony needs to learn how to deal with a destiny that he never expected? What lofty goals do they set for themselves?
These are highlights in the lives of the various House Path members, and all the love, fear, and hope that comes with such a family of beings. And maybe a little bit of sex in between.
This series follows after "Quantum Gallop" and is episodic, and the chapters might not be added in sequential order.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/369649/life-love-and-death-in-the-house-of-path

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6. Crystal's Wanderings - Part 3 A TREASURE FOUND

“Why are you smiling so much, Crystal?” Cloud Thumper asked.

“Why shouldn’t I be smiling?” the changeling Princess replied.

“That’s the third patch of quicksand we’ve had to extricate ourselves from, we’re all scratched from thorns and razor-sharp leaves, the leeches have been having a feast, and the insects have been driving us insane.”

Crystal smirked. “Having chitin does save me a lot of bother from the leeches and cuts, but I admit that I could do without the insects.” She swatted a particularly nasty-looking one from her flank with her tail.

“And yet you’re still smiling,” her companion pointed out.

“I’m having a grand adventure!” Crystal replied with a grin. “You’re a House Path warrior, so be a stallion and ignore these little problems.”

“I wouldn’t have to if Daring Do would let us fly,” Thumper grumbled.

Twilight chuckled. “I think you’d soon have bigger problems than a few bugs if you tried that.”

The harried pegasus sighed. “I know, I know. But we’ve been trudging through this jungle for days and only covered a distance we could have flown in a couple of hours.”

“And you would have quickly discovered the lost thestral tribe the hard way.”

“A pegasus can out-fly a thestral any day. You could out-fly one.”

“Not the point. We need to find their hidden city and complete our quest, not fly away with dozens, if not hundreds, of angry thestrals on our tails.”

“I know that, but how much longer are we going to have to keep this up?”

“No one knows for sure. It’s not called a hidden city for nothing,” Crystal pointed out.

“Cheer up!” Daring Do said with a smirk as they caught up to her. “If what I learned from my previous expedition holds true, we’ll be seeing signs of civilization within half a day. Then you’ll have to worry about the thestrals that aren’t in the air for a change.”

“Has anypony ever told you that you’re a barrel of laughs?” Thumper griped.

“Dr. Caballeron does all the time. We’ve been butting heads for decades, and he alternates between dire threats and complaining about how I’m always upsetting his ambitions. He even had the gall to disparage my sense of humor last time we had dinner.”

“You had dinner with your arch foe?” Crystal asked incredulously.

“Weird circumstances – I’ll tell you all about it later. Right now, we’d better pick up the pace. We do not want to encounter the hidden city at night.”

Despite his grumbling, Thumper did have the discipline of his House Path training, and he managed to do as Daring asked.

After pushing on for several hours through the vine-choked undergrowth, climbing over rocks and stumbling into hidden streams, the few glimpses that they managed to get of the sun through the canopy showed it to be getting low. The expedition leaders were beginning to fear that they would have to spend another night encamped in the hostile jungle. They could not even cook a decent meal for fear of attracting attention with the smoke from the campfire. However, that soon turned out to be the least of their worries.

“Halt!” Free Agent ordered in an urgent but low voice.

Daring Do looked back at the griffon changeling. “What’s wrong?” Although she was a little annoyed, she still took Free’s unexpected order seriously.

Instead of answering her, he looked at the other changeling in their group. “Crystal, do you taste it?”

Crystal’s tongue flicked out, seeking something she had not been properly alert for. She mentally kicked herself even as she replied quietly, “Emotion sources – lots of them. We’ve almost walked right into a group of thestrals.”

Daring muttered something under her breath before speaking up. “Right, we may have run up against a patrol, or a guard post. Either way, they may have heard us already. Thestral hearing is ridiculously good. Everyone be prepared to defend yourselves. Twilight Sparkle – be ready to shield Long Path. You know what to look for. The rest of you are with me. If we’re spotted, we run interference for them. Be smart and don’t let them engage you. Blockade-busting tactics only! You’re faster flyers, so use that. Let me tell you that they are nasty fighters in the air, so keep ahead of them at all times, but if you are forced to fight, do not inflict anything fatal upon them. And for Celestia’s sake, don’t get yourselves killed!”

“We know all that already,” Crystal said. “Let’s get on with it!”

Daring scowled. “Don’t get cocky! You’re a novice at this. And we’re still a little too early. Timing is everything if we’re to succeed.”

Path said, “While you’re correct, if we are delayed too much by the thestrals, that could be a problem also. Better we get started and rely on our defenses if necessary than to have to make up time.”

Twilight said, “As long as I can get a clear look at our goal, I can teleport us the rest of the way.”

“That assumes that we’ll be in a position to go with you,” Daring replied. “I strongly doubt that will be the case though, so unless we run out of time, stick around to help with defense.”

“Got it. Anything else?”

Daring grinned. “Yeah – just a reminder that no plan of action ever survives engagement with the foe, so be alert and be prepared to improvise. It’s how I survived long enough to write all those books!” She turned around and resumed moving towards their goal.

Free said, “If either Crystal or I yell out to run, don’t hesitate. We can tell if the thestrals are coming for us.”

Crystal already had her senses wide open for even a whiff of the scent of anger or any other emotion that would indicate that they had been spotted. It was not a matter of if but of when they would be noticed, and they were at a serious disadvantage in the thestral’s home territory. They proceeded as quietly as possible, putting off the confrontation as long as possible. Then there was a flare of emotion.

“We’ve been spotted!” Crystal called out.

“From the left!” Free added.

The cautious approach was immediately abandoned, and they started charging through the foliage as fast as possible. Almost immediately they hit a trail which explained why the thestrals had been close by. It did give the group one advantage though – they had an exact heading now for their destination. Path charged down the trail with Twilight close behind and Roseclaw taking protective position overhead. Free, Daring, Thumper, and Crystal took to the air and spread out a little in defensive formation even as dark shadows flickered through the forest toward them. With piercing shrieks, a band of russet-brown thestrals fell upon them, and Daring’s team members dodged and weaved to avoid them.

One chose to land on the trail in front of Path, spear raised to stop the pony. That was a bad mistake. Path did not even slow down his charge, but instead leaped into the air and did a forward flip, knocking aside the weapon with one hoof while another hit the thestral squarely between the eyes. Path’s foe was unconscious before he hit the ground and the earth pony completed the flip and landed on his hooves galloping. The Lord of House Path had never slackened his training since the Time War despite stepping down from the leadership role, and while his original teacher, General Warfist, had died, Path’s own son and new Warmaster had assumed the role, and was a hard taskmaster. Between his earth pony strength and rigid training, Path was one of the most dangerous unarmed foes that you could ever meet. One thestral did not even slow him down. The next two fared no better. Twilight’s shield only served to protect them both from projectile weapons.

Meanwhile the airborne members were being kept busy. While the group had apparently been detected by a small band of the thestrals, their cries had quickly brought reinforcements. Two charged head-on at Roseclaw, but the much larger griffoness actually accelerated toward them, then angled slightly up and between them, snagging a leathery wing of each bat-pony in her talons. She used her superior mass and strength to slam them together, and they dropped dazed and injured to the forest floor. Free was making good use of his talons also, although he was using his greater maneuverability to dodge the weapons before slashing the wing membranes, forcing the thestrals out of the air.

As Daring Do had said, the pegasi were faster than the thestrals in the air, and they used that advantage to dodge and weave, and only striking with their hooves when it was safe to do so. Crystal was not a pegasus though, and her natural changeling form could fly in a manner different from any of the others. She zipped back and forth, up and down, and left to right, in a seemingly random and unpredictable manner. She also had a horn to use, and she was stunning every thestral that came at her with blasts of her magic. The showy display and the trail of unconscious bat-ponies was drawing the ire of the thestral warriors, and more and more, they swarmed the particularly annoying bug-pony. That suited Crystal fine. The more they concentrated on her, the fewer would be attacking the others. She was the second-most powerful in the group, and she was well charged up and ready to fight after days of inaction.

The moving battle broke into two – the first trying to stop the relentlessly charging earth pony, and the second trying to deal with the aerial invaders. Even as Twilight stunned a couple more thestrals, she realized that as they had feared, the team was being split up. Half of them were too far away to teleport now. They would have to try to regroup. Moments later, they burst out of the jungle into a wide open clearing – and looking directly into the setting sun. Twilight squinted and her eyes watered, unable to deal with the sudden change of light conditions after the gloom of the forest. Tall triangular shadows loomed ahead as Twilight and the others tried to orient themselves, and in the confusion, some thestrals managed to get past their defenses.

A hastily thrown-up dome shield managed to protect Twilight, Path, and Roseclaw, although it prevented them from moving any further. A couple of thestral warriors that had slipped through before the shield went up were quickly dealt with by Roseclaw who had recovered her sight the quickest, but not before they had left some nasty gashes in Path’s flanks. It took far more than that to incapacitate the earth pony though, and he stood there snorting and panting lightly as he impatiently waited for his vision to clear.

When they could finally survey their surroundings, they realized that the triangular shadows were pyramidal stone buildings. Although they did not know what their function was, they did know that none of them were their intended destination. They had to move on again to move past the pyramids and hopefully get the sun out of their eyes to find their target, but they had lost the momentum of the charge and were being swarmed by ever more thestrals.

Meanwhile the aerial team were having similar problems. They too had burst out of the jungle, but a bit further down from the lead group. The one advantage that they had was that they hadn’t stared directly at the sun and were partly shaded by the buildings. Nevertheless, their eyes had to adapt, but the thestrals did not seem to be having similar problems. Crystal was the one to solve that conundrum due to her superior hearing.

“They’re echo-locating!” she shouted.

The others struggled to defend themselves as they adapted to the changed light conditions. They caught glimpses of the bat-ponies with their eyes closed, attacking without hesitation or confusion. Like the ground team, the flyers had lost momentum and the advantage of their greater speed and maneuverability. Thestral warriors slammed into them, and they were all fighting hoof-to-hoof for their lives.

Twilight saw the situation and screamed in anger. The dome shield rapidly expanded, stunning some of the nearer bat-ponies while scattering the rest far away. Free to move once more, they headed toward the aerial combat. The change of perspective revealed something else though.

“Look!” Roseclaw yelled, pointing with a talon. “There’s the Temple of the Moon!”

In the midst of the stone pyramids, a tall, thin, ivory tower stood, dominating a grassy square. There were no doors or windows except for an opening near the top that was only accessible by air.

“That’s where we need to go, but we’re still too early!” Twilight cried out. “The sun hasn’t set yet!”

“We have to help the others – get the group together to teleport up there,” Path said. “Once we’re there, you can stave off any attacks until moonrise.”

Twilight and Roseclaw forged a way through the swarming warriors and tried to help their airborne allies. But while they did greatly alleviate the pressure upon them, they could not get them gathered together close enough for Twilight to teleport them all. Then after several long frustrating minutes of desperate fighting, the light started dimming rapidly as the sun sank below the horizon.

Daring Do managed to break free of the pack long enough to shout down to Path and Twilight, “Get to the tower! You can’t teleport us without getting just as many thestrals. Go!”

Twilight screamed in frustration, but she knew that Daring was correct. Thrusting away their nearest foes, she threw a bubble shield around Path and herself. Roseclaw had joined the aerial battle and was just as much out of reach as the others, so it was going to have to be just the two of them. With the thestrals kept at bay, Twilight could concentrate on the teleportation spell, and a moment later, they popped out of existence and materialized at the top of the Tower of the Moon. Inside the opening, there was a meter high onyx plinth with an ivory crescent moon mounted upon it, obviating the name for the tower, but not its purpose.

From that vantage point, they had a clear view of the city, but they only had eyes for the battle being fought on the eastern side. From that distance, even Twilight could not do much except stun any thestrals heading to join the mêlée. That achieved little except attract attention to the two intruders on the tower. Twilight threw up a shield to protect them and turned to Path.

“The moon will be rising soon. You have to be ready!”

Path nodded and reached into the pouch at his side. He extracted a device and placed it upon the plinth, a gem set into one face of the gadget was turned toward the east. The earth pony looked toward the horizon impatiently. “Come on!” he murmured.

The moon peeked over the horizon, and the first rays of moonlight fell upon the device. The gem glowed, softly at first, but brighter and brighter as the full moon rose further to bathe it in its refulgence. Magic potential grew in the air, and Twilight and Path stood well aside. There was a flash of lightning and the crack of thunder, and suddenly a large dark form stood between them.

A black-pelted alicorn with enormous wings, slit eyes, and vicious fangs had joined them, her nebulous mane and tail flowing in a magic breeze. She wore silver armour of ancient design, but a crown rather than a helmet adorned her head. The being once feared as Nightmare Moon, stepped to the edge of the tower floor and spoke.

BY THE COMMAND OF YOUR RIGHTFUL QUEEN, ALL FIGHTING SHALL CEASE!

Although the words had not been spoken in Equish, Path understood the language well, and obviously so did the thestrals. The Royal Canterlot Voice, as it was euphemistically known, carried to every bat-pony within sight, and probably in the nearby jungle as well, and it drew their attention to the tower. They did indeed stop fighting, and they all swarmed toward the spire. However, they stopped short, hovering there to gaze upon their queen of legend.

Just as she had been doing since being freed from the curse of Nightmare Moon, Luna had been reuniting the thestral tribes all over Equis. Re-establishing contact with the Grand Colony had been one of her greatest achievements decades ago, but there had been lots of smaller tribes scattered around the world since the time of her Fall. This lost tribe was the last and had been the most difficult to locate. Daring Do had been commissioned to use her particular skills to track them down, and the expedition was launched to locate the city’s exact location so that the special mana beacon could be set to activate by the light of the moon. This enabled Luna to teleport directly from Canterlot and make a grand entrance that firmly established her identity. A relatively new invention, mana beacons had not been available when she had first revisited the Grand Colony, but she made good use of this one.

My subjects, although it has taken me over a thousand years to return, I have kept my promise to come back and lead you all to greatness again. The world has changed much though in that time, and my emissaries will teach you so that you may join your brethren and take a place of honor at my side once more.

There were shouts of joy and triumph from the thestrals, and they started an elaborate aerial display.

“What’s going on, Luna?” Path asked from the sidelines.

“It’s a dance in honor of me,” Luna replied quietly without taking her eyes off the thestrals. “After all these centuries, they remember the rituals perfectly.” A tear rolled down her cheek. “I am so proud of them.”

“So the danger is over?”

“It is. See to the others while my thestrals and I complete the ceremonial traditions.”

Twilight lit up her horn, and a moment later, she and Path stood on the ground near the site of the aerial battle. They looked around, spotting Roseclaw, Daring Do, Thumper, and Free all watching what was happening at the tower. There was someone missing though.

“Where’s Crystal?” Twilight asked.

Thumper’s head whipped around, and he started looking around frantically. He leaped into the air to get a better view, searching desperately for his partner. The others followed suit until Roseclaw spotted a prone form half-concealed by shrubs and gave a shout, pointing with a talon. Thumper power-dived, coming to a heavy stop beside Crystal, and immediately he saw the array of injuries that had been inflicted upon the changeling princess.

Changeling eyes were better suited to dimly lit hives than bright sunlight, and Crystal had been more dazzled than the rest by the setting sun. During the mêlée, the thestrals had taken advantage of her disorientation to swarm the most troublesome of the invaders, and Crystal was soon overwhelmed despite her best efforts. The others were too busy with their own foes to notice when Crystal was stunned by a hoof to her head, and she crashed to the ground. Several thestrals followed her down and inflicted numerous severe injuries despite her chitin armour before Luna’s voice brought the fighting to an abrupt halt.

Thumper bent down to lift Crystal’s head, tears flooding his eyes. The changeling groaned in pain, barely conscious of the pegasus until he started wailing in distress.

“No! No-no-no-no-nooooooooo! Crystal, speak to me!”

Crystal tasted the flood of emotion, automatically consuming it and using it to start healing her wounds. This was no mere affection and concern though, and it just kept coming. Pure love – the most powerful of emotions – soon had her virtually completely recovered even as she sensed it filling her depleted energy stores. Always the tastiest of emotions, she had known it all her life, but now it made her perplexed. She loved her parents and her sister, but why did she not love her best friend, the friend who had done so much for her for years and had now saved her very life? This was wrong! She tried to stop consuming his love, and it slowed to a trickle, but she still could not feel it. What was so different about what she felt for her family and what she wanted to feel for Thumper? Desperately she reached into her heart and felt the affection that she had for them, and then fortified with that, she reached out to Thumper. It… was not working. She saw the growing disappointment in his eyes, and her face contorted in anguish. “I… I lo…” She could not say it. Why couldn’t she say that one simple thing?

Thumper’s eyes closed for a moment and he took a deep breath. When he opened them again, they were filled with resolve. “I love you with all my heart, Crystal. I have loved you for a very long time, and I will love you until the day I die, even if you can’t love me back. I promise you that.” He then leaned down and kissed her, deeply and passionately.

Sweet Celestia! How could one pony be filled with so much love?! She drank it in, clawing away at it greedily, trying to slake a thirst that could never be quenched. He started trembling in her grasp, and abruptly she realized that she was on the verge of totally draining her best friend, leaving him a soulless husk. She screamed in horror as he slumped bonelessly. NO! Not Thumper! Not the one who meant more to her than anyone! How could she do this to him? She was not Chrysalis! SHE WAS NOT CHRYSALIS! She… loved him. A new feeling burst into her heart, and she poured it into the pegasus. After several long desperate moments, he groaned and pushed himself up again to look her in the eyes.

“I love you so much, Crystal Path.”

“I love you too, Cloud Thumper – now and forever.” Crystal felt the new bond that had grown between them, and started to cry. They were tears of joy though, and she smiled and kissed him softly and sensuously. “We are one heart now, until death do us part.”

“Let’s try not to let that happen anytime soon, okay?”

“That’s a deal, Thumper.”

   

 

“Thanks for the offer, Auntie Twilight, but Thumper and I are going to enjoy taking the slow way back,” Crystal replied after the alicorn had suggested that she teleport them back using the mana beacon in her Ponyville castle. “Daring Do has agreed to accompany us back to the Skyshark while you and Uncle Path work with Auntie Luna to begin the task of bringing the lost city into the modern era. We have a future together to discuss along the way.”

“Not to mention a wedding,” Thumper added with a grin.

“Hey!” Crystal objected. “It’s the bride who’s supposed to be super-enthusiastic about the wedding!”

Thumper shook his head. “I’ve been dreaming of this for a couple of years, but never had the nerve to ask because I knew that you weren’t in love with me yet. Now that that’s changed, I’ve got all these plans to make reality.”

Crystal gave him a flat look. “Do I get any say in this?”

Thumper’s grin grew wider. “Maybe. Let’s talk about it on the way, okay?”

Crystal smirked. “Who’s smiling non-stop now?”

“You came on this trip seeking adventure; I came seeking a treasure. I think we both got we were looking for, and I think that’s as good a reason as any to smile.”

“Not getting any argument from me, my Love.”

He held out a forehoof and she took it in hers before they took off, both of them forgetting all about the others.

Twilight giggled. “Were we ever like that, Free?” she asked her husband.

“Nah – we were worse. I might have to lift my game though or they might soon exceed me in the sappy love talk department.”

Twilight gave the griffon changeling a punch in the shoulder before immediately nuzzling him. “Idiot,” she murmured.

Free chuckled. “I found my treasure long ago.”

# # # # # #

Author's Note:

I couldn't leave Thumper hanging, could I?

 
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