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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16. Free Spirit

“I’m so sorry that this came up, Free, but Luna really needs my assistance tonight,” Twilight said for the fifth time.

“My apologies too,” Luna contritely.

Free chuckled and gave Twilight a hug. “It’s not your fault, Sparkles. Path will keep me company until you get back.”

Twilight fussed over the griffon’s graying plumage until Free gently stopped her.

“It’s okay, Twi. Now scoot along.” He gave her a long kiss nuzzle with his beak which she kissed in return. “Goodbye, Twilight. Love you forever.”

“Love you too. Bye!”

A moment later, Twilight and Luna teleported away to Canterlot.

Free sank to the floor with a groan, his form flickering with green magic flame, revealing his true appearance beneath. The Chrome Queen’s formerly shiny chitin was dull with extreme age, her mane lank and faded, and over three centuries of life weighed heavily upon her face.

Long Path stepped up to Free and held out his hoof to her. “You barely held together long enough.”

Free looked at the proffered hoof and reluctantly took it. Path helped her to her hooves and said, “Care to explain what just happened?”

Free sighed. “I’m dying, Path.”

Path closed his eyes and nodded. He took a deep breath before opening them again and gazed into his soulmate’s eyes. “I know. I’ve known for a while.”

Free lifted an eyebrow and snorted softly. “I should have known I couldn’t hide it from you. Could you walk with me to the meditation room so we can talk?”

Path nodded. “Of course.”

The walk to the meditation room was more a case of Path supporting the ancient Queen as she used her remaining strength to make the short journey. Several benches were placed around a stand that supported a softly glowing sphere, and she climbed onto one with a sigh of relief while Path settled down beside her. She was breathing hard, and the earth pony waited patiently until she settled down, pouring his love into her to bolster her strength.

“Thanks, Path. How did you find out that I was dying?”

“Aside from the fact that you’re 337 years old which is a lot longer than changeling queens usually live, I’ve noticed that you’ve lost your griffon form a few times while we were sleeping. I know that’s an indication that your body is failing. You always woke up in time to become a griffon again though.”

“Yeah, I don’t need as much sleep as you guys because you feed me so much love. But how come you woke up to see me like that?”

“Put it down to our bond, I suppose. I might have been woken by your distress. Anyway, it happened often enough that I knew what was happening. So why did you let your wife go away tonight?”

“I couldn’t do that to her, Path. I couldn’t tell her that I was dying and probably wouldn’t make it through the evening. You know how torn up she was when Roseclaw died. Then Blue and Lucy. Thank Celestia that Pif has had a long life like mine, and Des is immortal. Each time one of our family has died, she has taken it very hard, but at least it has been quick. Can you imagine what it would be like for her to sit here like you are, watching me die? She would be a total wreck, and it would tear me up to see her like that.”

“You arranged with Luna to have her take Twilight this evening, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. I knew Luna would have the strength to deal with the fact that I was dying as she has had to cope with loss for millennia. She still cried, but we made our final goodbyes.”

“And what about saying goodbye to Twilight?” Path asked with concern.

“Were you there long enough to hear what I told her? I did say goodbye, and told her that I would always love her. She did not have to know that it was our final parting. She’s going to be hurting when she finds out, but you, Luna, and the rest of the family will be there to help her grieve. Tell her that I am sorry to have tricked her and don’t blame Luna. I was thinking of how to make this easier for both of us. It was the least that I could do for the mate of my heart.”

“Do you think that is what she would have wanted?”

“Maybe not, but it’s what she needs. She’s immortal, Path, and she’s going to see a lot more family die. Her parents, her five first friends, her children, and now her grandchildren, her great grandchildren… you will need to be her strength through those times.”

“How am I supposed to do that for an alicorn, Free? I won’t be there for her forever.”

Free snorted derisively before breaking into a hacking cough. When it finally settled down, she said, “When are you going to stop deluding yourself, Path?”

“What are you talking about, Free?”

“You’re not going to die. If you didn’t trim your beard, it would be dragging on the ground by now, but that’s the only thing that has changed about you in three centuries. You’re still as fit and healthy as you were when we went adventuring with Daring Do for the first time.”

“Well, I always figured that Mort had extended my lifespan in order to accomplish what I was destined to do.”

Free chuckled and shook her head. “I remember what you told me that Mort said. Quote – ‘We will not meet again for a very long time, Long Path.’ Correct?”

“I suppose so. It’s been over three centuries.”

“Trust me – I remember. Best part of having access to the hive network is that nothing important gets forgotten.”

“So? Your point?”

“Mort is the guide to the afterlife, and has been doing that task since there were sapient beings to guide. He’s been in existence so long that he makes Celestia look like a foal. Beings like that don’t think in terms of time like we do. A day is a blink of the eye to him. A year is next to nothing. A decade might be noticeable. So when an immortal being like that says he won’t be seeing you for a very long time, that is more than significant. Path – you are just as immortal as Twilight.”

“What?! No! That’s impossible!”

“No, it isn’t. You know that there was a lot of speculation that you were the one who was supposed to have become an alicorn instead of Shining Armor that day. I believe that’s true.”

“So where are my wings and horn, Free? I don’t even have any magic!”

“Ponies can’t survive long without magic, Path. You were never totally devoid of it, and I’ve noticed that it has been slowly returning.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ve sometimes picked tiny things up by tactile telekinesis without even noticing it. Your language talent has been enhanced again. Your strength in the training arena has grown. In several more years, I believe you will be back to normal earth pony level. Mort only knows where you go from there.”

Path just sat there stunned for a long while, and Free took the opportunity to rest for a moment. Eventually the earth pony nodded in acceptance.

“So… immortality… It’s something that I am going to have to get used to. I’ve just been counting myself lucky to have had a long life.”

I’ve been counting on you being immortal. When I’m gone, you will be there for Twilight, and for Luna too. She can finally have someone close to her heart that she won’t outlive. You are more than their herd stallion, Path. You should ask them both to formally marry you.”

“Do you think that Twilight would even want to consider that, Free? You were her first true love, and she might not wish to re-marry.”

“It’s precisely for that reason that she should. She must not pine for me forever after I’ve gone. Life goes on, and so should Twilight. She needs someone to hug and kiss her, to comfort her when she is hurting, to laugh with her when she is happy, to be proud with her when her family does something wonderful. She would have an immortal husband and wife to fall back on whenever someone close to her dies. Twilight needs someone to love who is not just a memory. She is so strong in so many ways, but she wears her heart on her sleeve. I would like to think that I know what is best for her after all these years. Please say that you’ll do this for me.”

“I promise. I won’t push her though.”

“I’m not asking you to push – just be quietly persistent. She’ll almost certainly say she wants to be loyal to my memory, but if she truly wants that, then she should do as I suggest. Nothing means more to me than her happiness… and yours, Path, my soul-mate.”

Path put his left foreleg around Free’s shoulders and hugged her, pouring more of his love into the changeling. Free closed her eyes and enjoyed the delicious taste of true love, but despite the invigorating energy, she still felt herself fading.

 

 

Several long minutes passed in silence before Path spoke up.

“Free – I’m glad that you did not do to me what you did to Twilight. I want to be here with you in your final moments.”

Free looked up to him with heavy eyelids. “I know, Path. You’re not Twilight though. We’ve been together virtually our entire lives, and now shouldn’t be an exception. One last duty for Captain Cluck.”

“If I could order Commander Trotty to stay with me, I would.” Tears started leaking from Path’s eyes.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, my beloved. I’ll always be with you.”

Free closed her eyes again, and Path laid his head on her neck. Over the period of about an hour, he felt her breath coming slower and slower, until finally she exhaled in a deep shuddering sigh and failed to breathe in again.

About a quarter hour later, Epiphany entered the meditation room. She was showing her age also, but she still ruled the Chrome Hive with great strength. She looked at the two on the bench, Path’s tears soaking Free’s mane. She walked up to them, her heart filled with concern for her father.

“Dad, you realize that Free has passed on, don’t you?”

Path made the smallest of nods in acknowledgement.

“I felt Free’s connection to the hive network fail and knew that my mother had died. It’s time for the final rite.”

Curiosity drew Path’s eyes to meet with Pif’s. “What rite?”

“Something unique to the Chrome Hive, but you need to be part of it.”

Several drones entered the room with a gurney. Pif levitated Free’s body upon it and the drones started to wheel it out. Path began to follow, but stopped when he noticed Pif taking the glowing sphere off its stand before turning to follow.

“Why are you bringing that?” Path asked.

“The Soul Sphere is an important part of the rite,” she explained. “You’ll see soon enough.”

“Did you know that Free was dying?”

“Yes. Mom had me make some preparations in advance.”

“What else do you know?”

“Did you discuss staying around to support Mama Twilight?”

“If you mean that Free explained that I am immortal, yes.”

“Good. I was supposed to do that if Mom did not manage to do so. I’m glad that you two were able to share your last moments together.”

“You seem to be handling this well?”

“I bawled my eyes out when Mom told me a few days ago that she figured she only had days to live. I’ve had a bit of time to get used to it. I know how you feel, Dad, even without being able to taste your emotions. I’ve had to block yours because the negative emotions were getting too much for me.”

“Sorry, Pif.”

“Don’t be, Dad. You’re grieving, and that is normal. But I hope to make that better.”

“How so?”

“The rite. Again – you’ll see.”

They made their way deep into the Chrome Hive until they finally turned into a room that was a strange amalgam of changeling construction with modern technology. Pif put the sphere into a cradle on a device that was strange to Path, and then she levitated Free’s body onto an adjacent tabletop that resembled an altar. The drones then brushed her mane and tail and rearranged her limp wings to make her more presentable. They then exited the room as Hype arrived, along with her and Pif’s daughters and granddaughters. They nodded respectfully towards Path and waited for Pif.

The Chrome Queen stepped up next to Path, laying one wing along his back as everyone gathered around the altar table. “We are gathered to pay our respects to the First Mother. Although her birth name was Gossamer, and her family name Cirrus Ironbeak, her true name was Free Agent. She always did things her way, and with the love and support of her family, made the Chrome Hive the great center of learning and innovation that it is today. Her rejection of stale tradition and centuries of narrow thinking enabled her children to do what no hive had done before. We commit her memory to the Hive.”

“We commit her memory to the Hive,” echoed the others.

Pif nodded to the one remaining drone, one of her personal assistants. The drone touched a button and the altar glowed, as did the sphere.

Pif then turned to Path and said, “Please sit down over there.” She indicated a spot near the sphere.

Puzzled, Path complied.

Pif then levitated a circlet attached to the machinery by a cord which Path recognized as the magitek means by which non-changelings could safely communicate with the hive network.

“What’s going on, Pif?”

“Please, Dad, just go with this.”

Path let them put the circlet on his head, and Pif’s horn glowed for a moment. Path found himself in the normal virtual staging room where a drone would usually come to guide the visitor safely through the stored accumulated knowledge of the hive. The door to the room opened, but no drone came through. Instead a grinning griffon stood there.

“Hello, Path. Didn’t I promise that I would always be with you?”

Path could not stop laughing as he hugged his soulmate.

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

I have had this episode on my mind for ages, but only now had the chance to write it down. Again, a lot of elements from the previous stories had to come together for this moment. Despite being the author, even I was nearly overcome by the feelings of Free's passing because the characters are so alive to me.

Art by Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf

 
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