• Published 9th May 2016
  • 2,810 Views, 488 Comments

Quantum Gallop - Goldfur



The youth of House Path are abruptly whisked away to a Ponyville where a tyrant queen rules absolutely, and the alliances with Griffonia and the Changeling Hives have never been forged. Who has changed history and how do they fix it?

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Chapter 3 - History Rewrites

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

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

“That did not answer my question.”

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

“In a dirty hut?”

“Exactly.”

“Who’s the old geezer?”

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

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

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

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

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

Now you’re talking my language!”

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucida nodded in agreement. “Keep going.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My head hurts,” Cinder complained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a good point,” Blue agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the movement?” Lucida prompted.

Pif shrugged. “Not a clue, sorry.”

“Blue?” Lucida looked at him hopefully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was something that they all could agree on.

# # #

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

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

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

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

# # #

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

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

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

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

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

“Quite right,” Destined replied.

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

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

“Ugh! There’s that headache again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Out with it!” Lucida ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucida just shook her head and let the subject drop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like your companions did?” Blue asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“But Princess Cadance….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pif nodded. “Trust me, Lucy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pif!” Lucida exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Great! I want a piece of her!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes – so?”

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” the dragoness replied.

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

“I’ll have to take that chance.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did everything go right?” Blue asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You fight with… such determination. Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello, Citrine.

‘Vindictia? How are you in my head?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We will see to it that she succeeds,” Citrine answered with Vindictia’s voice, startling the crystal pony. She addressed all the Red Changelings in a commanding voice, “This building must be defended at all costs. Spread out around the building and ensure that no Blue Changeling enters or causes harm!”

The changelings saluted and took off.

Citrine started to follow on hoof, needing no urging from the princess that she hosted. Nevertheless, Vindictia had something more to say.

I sense the power within you. I saw it manifest while we were fighting together.

“What are you talking about?”

The crystal shell that protected you. You’re a latent crystallomancer. I can bring that power to the fore if you allow me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if it helps me fight, do it!”

Citrine’s body started to glow, and the crystal dust in the air and the shards on the ground started to move towards her. They attached to her coat, building up more and more until she was encased in a thick, living armor. She laughed in delight. “This really rocks! Let’s kill us some Blues!”

# # #

Destined was worried. Like the last time around, Shining Armor seemed to be under considerably more strain than had been reported, and the young alicorn knew what would happen if the shield was overloaded again this time. He could not reinforce the shield directly as that was not how the spell worked. The Avatars of Harmony were doing their best to supply Shining with power, but that was not how that preternatural force was intended to be used, and it was not as effective as it could have been. In spite of the desire to not interfere any more than could possibly be helped, Destined was left with only one choice – he would have to help directly. Fortunately from his place of concealment, he should be unobserved. His horn lit up and he pointed it at Shining, funneling his alicorn power to the unicorn.

The effects were immediate. Shining’s shaky stance firmed up and his expression eased. The trembling of the castle due to the impacts on the shield lessened. Destined was confident that the shield would last this time, at least until his siblings could help Free take out Chrysalis. He did not know how long he could keep this up if they didn’t, but he refused to worry about that right now. The only other thing that nagged at the back of his mind was whether this was going to have any aftereffects on his uncle.

# # #

The fighting with the Blue Changelings was fiercest in the vicinity of the battling queens as the drones followed Chrysalis’ orders to keep all others away from her fight with Free. As the House Path team was stationed where they knew that battle would culminate, of course the fighting was at its most intense there. Citrine was loving it. She was fighting with more power and strength than she had ever known before, reinforced by the power of the changeling princess within her. Instinctively, she used her power to form long and wickedly sharp blades extending from her forehooves, and she tore into the thick of the fighting, mercilessly mowing down her foes.

The princess’s squad were also fighting at their utmost peak. Already empowered by the ambient love, they were being supercharged by the energy of fierce loyalty and devotion to her cause that the crystal pony was radiating. Wounds incurred in their clashes with the Blues were healing almost as fast as they were inflicted. The squad at that moment were wielding power that was only matched by the alicorn princesses and the two mighty queens fighting their decisive battle.

It’s time!” Pif suddenly yelled, pointing towards Path and the others huddled around him.

He was glowing with the power that was being fed into him by Twilight and Roseclaw, and in turn he was channeling to Free. They looked up to see Free hovering there, letting the power build, with Chrysalis watching warily.

Pif let her own power build and she focused on the connection to the hive queen, waiting for the inevitable moment, wondering if it would come this time.

Free vanished.

Chrysalis, behind you!

The mental shout came, and once more the changeling queen automatically started to dodge even as she began throwing up a shield.

Pif latched onto Chrysalis’ mind and mentally hauled with all her might. The shield shattered, leaving the queen vulnerable, but to Pif’s horror, her attack did not physically move her at all, and she was still out of alignment with Free’s pre-planned angle of attack.

Just then, screaming like a banshee, Citrine flashed through the air, surrounded by the telekinetic glow of half a dozen Red Changelings. She had a coffee table in one hoof, and she swung it with all her might, smashing Chrysalis in the side and shoving her back into the path of Free’s unleashed power. The beam ripped through the changeling queen, fatally injuring her, and she plummeted to the ground, her aura of power fading.

“VICTORY!” Free yelled and followed his mother down to the ground, even as Blue drones started falling out of the air as they lost the driving force behind them.

Citrine was lowered back to the ground, and she trotted over to Pif with a huge grin on her face. She held up a leg to give a hoof-bump to the startled disguised changeling. “Hey, we do good work, don’t we?”

Pif was nearly overwhelmed by the energy coming off the crystal pony. She suddenly hugged Citrine tightly. “You’re amazing! I've never encountered a pony like you before! Thank you! You have saved the Crystal Kingdom, and all of Equestria.”

Citrine was for once a little taken aback, and she actually blushed. “Nah, it was all of us. Me 'n the gang here work great together. I’m just glad to get a shot at the bug queen.”

Lucida stepped up and said to Pif, “You know that we could have done something similar if we looped back again.”

Pif smiled at her sister. “Yes, but she was the one to do it now, and she did it well. I think it’s only right that it was a crystal pony that was instrumental in saving the Crystal Kingdom.”

“No argument from me,” Lucida replied as she looked over to where Free was having his last words with his dying mother. “And I think our task is complete. Everything looks to be back on track.”

“I agree…” Pif suddenly lurched. “Whoa!”

“What’s wrong?” Lucida asked with a frown of concern.

“Nothing. Chrysalis just transferred control of the hive-mind to Free. I can feel Dad again, thank Celestia!”

Graxx looked at Pif with suspicion, his horn lighting up. “You were connected to Chrysalis’ hive-mind? What are you? You seem to be like a Blue but different.” He started to advance on Pif.

Lucida suddenly reached out with her talons and grabbed Graxx by the horn. She flipped him over onto his back with a thud. “No threatening my sister!” she said with a snarl.

The other Reds were wary now, and Vindictia spoke up through Citrine, “Please explain yourselves before my squad is forced to act.”

Pif held up her forehooves to show she wasn’t going to make any dangerous moves. “I’m related to them, but I’m not a Blue. Look!” She allowed her unicorn disguise evaporate in magic fire, revealing her chrome chitin.

All the Reds were surprised, even Vindictia. “What are you?” she echoed her lieutenant’s question.

“I’m a Chrome Changeling, but that’s not something that will be revealed to the public for a little while yet, and I will need you to keep it a secret until then. I will tell you this much though – I have far more in common with Free Agent than Chrysalis,” Pif replied as she pointed out her progenitor who was currently kicking and cursing his supposedly dead mother.

Vindictia nodded. “I believe you. Squad, stand down.” She then relinquished control to Citrine. Well, what now?” Citrine asked in her own voice.

Lucida replied, “We’re going to wait for Des to return and then we’ll leave. As for you, I believe you have a promise to fulfill to Vindictia.”

“Yep, but I don’t think we’ll get anywhere until tomorrow after they sort out this mess, so I’m going to have a drink.” She turned and headed for the ruined bar, and the six Red changelings followed dutifully.

With nothing better to do, and still needing to conceal themselves from general sight, the others followed also. They scavenged bottles from the wreckage and were enjoying a second round of drinks (or a fourth in Citrine’s case) before Destined teleported in.

Lucida got up from her chair and walked over to Destined. “What took you so long?” she asked quietly.

“I stayed to watch Uncle Shining ascend,” Destined admitted.

“That would have been worth seeing,” Lucida agreed. “So, how did it go for you?”

“I had to support Shining Armor otherwise the shield might have fallen before Chrysalis was defeated.”

“Supported? You were only supposed to watch out for and prevent interference! What did you do?”

“I supplied him with some of my own power. He was able to carry the load of the shield easily after that.”

Lucida stared at Destined with shock. “You supplied alicorn power into him while he was already being infused with Harmony? You know Mama Twilight and Auntie Luna have always wondered if that was all that caused him to ascend. Do you realize that it might have been your power that pushed him over the line?”

Destined’s eyes widened in realization. “Sweet Celestia! I never thought of that.”

Lucida shuddered. “Too much has happened because of us. Let’s hope that our future has been properly restored. We have to get back now before we have any more effects on time.”

“Agreed.”

Lucida went back over to the others. “Time for us to leave.”

“Aw, I was enjoying the evening,” Pif complained. The changeling had let her control slip after the battle had been won, and she was slightly drunk on both the liquor and the intoxicating emotions that kept pouring out of Citrine. She had one arm around the crystal pony and the other hoof held up her bottle of beer. “I think we can celebrate a bit longer, right Citrine?”

“Bloody oath!” she concurred.

“Sorry, but it’s not up for debate. We’re leaving almost immediately. I don’t know about you, but I want to get home again.”

“Spoilsport,” Pif sulked. “Okay, just let me finish this drink.”

“Blue has to power up anyway, so go ahead.” Lucida looked at Blue who nodded and put down his beer. He walked outside, took off his shoes, and started to draw in the power that they would need for the time-jump.

“What is your brother doing?” Vindictia’s curious voice came from Citrine.

Lucida considered her words carefully. “We are going to make an exceptionally long journey that will require a lot of magic. Blue has the ability to soak up incredible amounts of energy, so he serves as our power source.”

“I have never heard of such a spell. At least I will witness it before I pass on to the Great Circle.”

After a few minutes, Blue Streak declared that he was ready, and the others gathered around him. He activated the vortex manipulator and Destined reached out with his mind to link with it and determine their destination. “Ready,” he declared.

“Okay, let’s go. Farewell, everyone,” Lucida said to the Red Changelings and Citrine.

Citrine suddenly tipsily trotted over to the group and raised a leg to hoof-bump Pif. “Bye, shinybug!”

Pif automatically lifted her hoof to respond.

“No, don’t!” Lucida yelled.

What are you doing?!’ Vindictia yelled in Citrine’s mind.

It was too late. Hooves touched just as the time-jump was triggered, and they all plunged into the vortex.

Lucida’s eyes were locked onto Citrine for the entire journey through the vortex. Had they accidentally screwed up history again?

# # #

Long Path accompanied Free Agent, Twilight Sparkle, and Luna to the chambers for the regular meeting with the changeling queens at Canterlot, along with their retinue. Free didn’t even bother taking his natural form anymore. As far as he was concerned, taking serious responsibility for his hive did not require divesting himself of his self-identity as a griffon. They stopped outside the chambers when they saw two alicorns waiting for them – one a pink mare and the other a white stallion.

“BBBFF! Cadance! It’s good to see you again!” Twilight exclaimed, rushing over to give them both a hug.

“Hey, Twily, how are things?” Shining Armor asked as he returned the hug.

“Still wondering where our children have disappeared to.”

“No word about this ‘secret mission’ of theirs?” Cadance asked.

Twilight shook her head. “If it wasn’t for that letter they sent, I would be worried sick right now. Still, none of them are foals anymore, so I’ll just have to trust them.”

“Meanwhile, life and duties go on. Ready for the meeting?”

“Not really. Epiphany was supposed to be demonstrating a new development this time, but that will have to be postponed now. There’s not much more than standard business aside from that.”

“Nopony ever said royal business was exciting,” Shining commented.

Twilight stuck her tongue out at him. “At least you don’t have to attend the meetings.”

Shining grinned. “That’s all you know. Us guys have our own meeting out here while waiting for you.”

Cadance smiled at her husband. “Try not to lose too many bits this time, dear.”

Shining just grinned back at his wife.

“Daddy!” a young voice squealed in delight from behind them.

The group turned around just in time to see a small crimson form dash into their midst and latch onto Path.

“Oho! My little princess!” Path declared as he bent over and picked up the changeling nymph who giggled and lapped up the love he was projecting at her. “How’s my little Fifi doing?” he asked as he rubbed his muzzle into her tummy, making her laugh.

“For the last time, her name is Fidelitas,” came Carpacia’s exasperated voice.

‘Seems more like a Fifi to me,” Free commented.

Carpacia glared at him. “It’s your fault that they call my daughter that. It’s not dignified.”

My daughter prefers her nickname,” Free riposted.

Your hive always does things strangely,” Carpacia complained.

“It didn’t stop you from making us technically in-laws,” Free replied smugly.

By this time, the young Red Changeling princess had climbed onto her sire’s back and was clinging to his neck while nibbling an ear as Path patiently indulged her. Fortunately experience had taught them well, and he had a spell on him to ensure that she did not accidentally start draining him of emotional energy. She got plenty of the freely given type though, and she loved spending time with her dad.

Shining Armor eyed Carpacia’s contingent and smiled in recognition. “Ready to hoof back those bits you won from me last time, Major Graxx?”

“I didn’t even bother bringing them with me, Prince Armor. I’ll need the room for the rest of your bits,” Graxx replied with a tight smile.

“We’ll see about that!” He started urging Path, Graxx, Leatherwing, and Nox to join the rest of the changeling guards who had already arrived. Chairs had already been drawn about a couple of tables and decks of cards awaited them.

Carpacia rolled her eyes at the sight. “Well, it would seem that everyone is early today, and I’m the last to arrive. Shall we proceed?” she asked the Princesses and Free.

They nodded and followed her into the chamber. Two Royal Guards closed the double doors behind them, and then set aside their weapons to take places at the tables.

# # #

The Council of the Queens was in the middle of a rather boring report on the status of the expansion of the Yellow Hive into another city’s public health service when suddenly a wind blew up from nowhere, and papers on the table started flying around the room. The air above the table distorted and crackled, then suddenly opened up with strange light effects before indecorously dumping a number of bodies onto the table. The vortex then disappeared as if it had never existed.

Citrine jumped up. “Whoo! Now that’s what I call a ride!”

Carpacia stood up suddenly and held out a hoof, her eyes wide and already starting to water.

“Pony! Who are you transferring?!” she asked as she indicated the symbol on her chest.

Citrine I need to talk to my mother, please!

Citrine let go of control and her body posture changed.

“Don't you remember your eldest daughter, Mother?” Vindictia asked with fake hurt feelings.

“Vindictia!” Carpacia exclaimed, hardly daring to hope.

The Red Hive network suddenly erupted into activity once they heard the name of their princess, Vindictia.

“How many hours remain, Daughter?” Carpacia asked.

“Rest easy, Mother; we have several days before this body fails. We have plenty of time to get to the hive so I can be properly sent away and the pony can recover,” Vindictia replied.

The Red Queen sent out an urgent message over her hive-network as she stood up. She then took Citrine in her arms and hugged the pony, tears leaking from her eyes.

“Will somepony please tell us what is going on,” Celestia calmly but firmly asked.

“They’ve just returned from their so-called secret mission, I would guess,” Twilight commented. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

The others were still in the process of disentangling themselves. Lucida managed to get herself free first and looked around to see Luna. “It has to do with a very timely intervention on our part,” she said earnestly.

Luna’s eyes widened in surprised realization. “You, Blue, and three others – dost this mean that the mission was a success?”

“Yes, Auntie, I believe so.”

Luna stood up. “This council is at recess! We have more important matters to discuss.” The Moon Princess noticed that chamber doors were ajar, and the concerned faces of husbands and guards were looking in, wondering what the awful commotion had been. Path was surprised to see the wayward children. “Come in, Prince Armor. Thou too, Path. This concerns you both.”

Pif suddenly recognized one of the changelings. “Graxx! Come in here also, please.”

The Red Changeling’s mouth was agape as memories from years ago were awakened. “Chrome princess?” he asked disbelievingly even as he stepped inside the chamber. Then he got a good look at Citrine as Carpacia finally relinquished her hug. “Princess Vindictia!” he shouted.

“Yes, Graxx, it’s us,” Vindictia replied.

“It’s been over nineteen years since you disappeared!” he protested.

“So that was some kind of time vortex?” Vindictia asked, looking at Lucida for confirmation.

The hippogriff nodded before saying, “We need to close the chamber. What we have to say should not leave this room until everyone is informed, and only what we feel is necessary.”

Luna looked at the guards at the door. “Leatherwing, Nox, attend us. Everypony, speak of naught that you have heard or seen just now.” Luna felt a brief moment of déjà vu. “Close the doors and let no one inside unless it is of the utmost importance.”

The guards closed the doors while everyone sorted themselves out.

Shining Armor stared at Citrine in vague recollection. “Do I know you?”

Citrine took a good look at him and her face lit up with a roguish grin. “Hey! If it isn’t Prince Shinybutt! Where’d you get the wings?”

The alicorn’s memory was jogged and he frowned. “Citrine Quartz! What’s a troublemaker like you doing involved in this?”

“Saving your shiny butt, that’s what,” she replied impudently.

“A likely story. What happened to your gang?”

“My posse ain’t around anymore to keep you on your hooves, so I’ll just have to do it all by myself.”

Shining was about to retort when Cadance put a hoof on his shoulder and said, “Let it go, Shining. We have more important things to concern ourselves with right now.”

“Quite right, Cadance,” Twilight said as she turned her attention to her children. “So, are you ready to explain why you have been missing for fifteen days?” she asked with some acerbity.

Lucida looked at Destined. “Fifteen days? How did you miss by that much?”

Destined scratched the back of his neck with some embarrassment. “I forgot that it would take far less energy to move with the flow of time as opposed to going back against it. I had to shunt all the excess energy into spatial movement instead, which is how we ended up in Canterlot instead of the Crystal City, and I still apparently overshot by a fortnight.”

“I thought you couldn’t move us like that?”

“Give me a break! It’s not like I’ve had much practice at manipulating time and space!”

“Children! Calm down and start explaining, please,” came Celestia’s voice with a hint of gentle rebuke.

“Sorry,” Lucida replied. “It’s about time….”

# # #

“So I became an equicidal tyrant?” Twilight said sadly.

“As I said, Mom, I don’t think it was your fault,” Destined replied earnestly. “Chrysalis’s emotion blast distorted your mind.”

“Still, I had rather hoped that I would have been able to resist better. It would seem that would be a false hope.”

Cadance looked miserable. “At least you have an excuse, Twilight. It sickens me to hear what my alternative history self did.”

“Auntie Cadance,” Pif begun, “I think you do have an excuse. You had become too bound up with the Crystal Heart by the time of the Siege of the Crystal Kingdom. Destroying it had a terrible effect on you as well. The first time that it was shattered by Flurry Heart, it was still repairable, and you were still new to the kingdom, but as time passed, you and the Heart became more dependent on each other, so when it broke, so did you.”

“That’s little reassurance, Pif. It means that my state of mind now forever depends on the well-being of the Crystal Heart. Must I now always surround it with guards to ensure its safety? Must I keep away the very citizens who revere it merely to quell my own fears?”

Pif’s face reflected her uncertainty. “I honestly don’t know, Auntie, but I don’t think that’s the answer. Maybe there’s another way that we have yet to think of.”

“I will give it a lot of thought.”

Celestia spoke up. “As terrible as those events were, they have been relegated to what might have been. Of more importance is the one overriding fact that somepony interfered with history for their own dark purposes. Considering the nature of the interference and the consequences, I strongly doubt that it was the result that they desired. That means that the culprit might try again, and right now we are helpless to prevent it. Are you absolutely certain that you could not identify the antagonist in any way?”

Pif shook her head. “I was listening very closely the second time around, but I could not identify the one who sent the warning beyond that it was a changeling linked to Chrysalis’ hive-mind. It was a very strong link, but not a familiar one.”

“I hope that you are not suspecting that it was an infiltrator from one of our hives,” Queen Orlare said with a frown.

Pif shook her head. “No, I think the mental touch would have been different. Besides, I have no reason to believe that any of the five other Equestrian Hives, nor even the Western Hive, would do this.”

“So it seems that we must rely on this Doctor Time Turner to forestall further attacks,” Luna stated. “Who is this pony who has such remarkable knowledge of time?”

Celestia looked as if she was struggling with herself on how to react to her sister’s question. She eventually answered, “Sister, this Doctor is known to me. He has come to Equestria’s aid on several occasions.”

“Then why have I not heard of him?”

“Most of the occasions have been during the last thousand years when you weren’t there to help me.”

Luna blinked in surprise. “Is this Doctor an alicorn in disguise?”

Celestia shook her head. “No, he isn’t an alicorn. He is… unique.”

“And immortal like us, apparently.”

“I cannot answer that, but I do know that he is a friend to Equestria.” Celestia turned to Lucida. “Can you describe what he looks like?”

Lucida gave the best description that she could, but a light brown pony with a medium brown mane was hardly distinctive. Only his hourglass cutie mark was significant.

“So, he’s changed again,” Celestia murmured.

“What’s that, sister?”

“Never mind, Luna. I will tell you more later. Meanwhile, it seems that you have left something untold for the best part of twenty years.”

Luna blushed. “Thou dost refer to Lucida and Blue Streak’s visit to my court before the invasion?”

“I do. I have always wondered how you just happened to have some troops conveniently on hoof to send to the Crystal Kingdom when word came from House Path.”

“While I could not speak of the visit for fear of inadvertently interfering with the course of history, I felt that judicious troop movements were low risk. After seeing the results, I stand by my decision.”

Celestia nodded. “I do not question your judgement, Luna. It was your decision to make, and likely a wise one. Still, I wonder if you had ever had to make that decision before, or whether it became a part of the new history.”

“Thou dost believe that it previously never happened?”

Instead of answering her, Celestia turned to Free and said, “Could you please describe the moments that led up to your defeat of Chrysalis at that battle.”

Free looked a little surprised. “It’s not as if I haven’t told it dozens of times before. Path was sending me his energy as well as Twilight’s and Roseclaw’s via our bond, and I was accumulating it for one devastating blow as well as to power the teleport that would take Chrysalis by surprise. Then I made the 'port and started to fire my shot only to belatedly discover that she was already turning and moving out of my aim while trying to put up a shield. That failed, but my shot was still going to miss until a pony unexpectedly smashed into her and put her back in the path of it. Chrysalis was mortally wounded and the battle was won.”

Celestia then looked at Lucida. “As Free Agent just said, he’s told this tale often. How do you recall it?”

Lucida replied, “Up until the teleport, everything was as Papa Free described it. However, Chrysalis never got a warning, and so she was taken totally by surprise. She did not move, and Citrine did not play a part in it at all.”

Path came to the conclusion quickly. “So history is still changed. Should we be concerned?”

“No, Dad,” Destined replied. “While the probability path was altered by interference from various parties, the timeline appears to have resumed a high-probability course that we recognize. While some events unfolded differently, the sum of them has led to the same basic conclusion, I believe. Unless we five find anything to contradict it later, I would say that probably everything is virtually the same as before we left.”

“Ha! How about that?” Free said with a smirk. “I never expected that my kids would ever get to watch me kick Chrysalis’ butt, let alone become part of my victory.”

“You might yet get to do it again,” Pif said.

“What do you mean?”

“While we can’t positively identify who gave the warning, we do know that it was almost certainly a Blue Changeling, and most likely under the orders of its queen, and since we’re dealing with time travel, that was very likely Chrysalis herself trying to change the result of the battle.”

“Isn’t she supposed to be dead though?”

Twilight interjected, “Remember the anomalous results that we got from the autopsy?”

There was silence as everyone digested that uncomfortable fact. It was Carpacia who finally broke it.

“I feel that we have learned as much as possible from this debriefing. If you would excuse me, I have a daughter to return to the Circle.”

Luna nodded and said, “If there are no objections, I declare this meeting closed.”

Carpacia held out a hoof to Citrine. “Come with me. It is time to fulfill your promise.”

“May I come also, Carpacia?” Path asked. “I feel a bond through our daughter.”

Carpacia nodded, and they departed with little Fifi still riding her father’s back.

“So what are we supposed to do now?” Cinder asked nobody in particular.

“I believe we have an appointment with our Doctor,” Lucida said with a smirk.

# # #

“I swear that this is where his workshop was!” Blue declared with annoyance.

“Not arguing with you, Blue,” Lucida replied as they all gazed at the empty lot in the midst of Ponyville.

“So what happens now?” Cinder asked.

Destined pointed at the vortex manipulator still clasped to Blue’s leg. “If we’ve been left with that, I suspect that our adventures in time might not have ended.”

Pif shrugged. “If so, bring it on. We still need to catch the villain after all.”

There was a murmur of agreement before they turned and headed home to Twilight’s castle.

# # #

Citrine looked around in fascination as she was led deeper into the Red Hive. She seemed to be attracting a crowd, although she knew that they were really here for the princess that she carried within her. She had been having quite a conversation with her since they had left Canterlot.

“Once you are sent to the Great Circle, will I still have all of those abilities that we used against the Blue Hive?”

While you still have the abilities, you have to discover the pathways to them yourself. The only reason why I could was because I was able to explore both your conscious and subconscious at the same time. It was a desperate move that paid off. You are a crystallomancer – you just need to unlock the power within yourself, Citrine.

“You know, I think I’m going to miss you. How does the sending process work?”

You’ll see.

The group ended up in a huge hall that was nearly totally filled with Red Changelings. There was a dais in the middle to which they made their way and mounted the steps. The murmuring of the gathered drones died down in anticipation. Path stood to one side while Fidelitas stood on his shoulders and watched curiously.

Carpacia turned to Citrine. “I request that you relinquish control to my daughter, Citrine Quartz.”

Citrine nodded and did so. “I am here, mother,” came Vindictia’s voice.

“Are you ready to move on to the Great Circle, Vindictia?”

“In a moment, mother. First, I have to do something.” She turned and walked over to Path, but it was Fidelitas whom she gazed at. She reached up a hoof to stroke her cheek. “I am happy that I got to see you, my sister. May you grow to bring this Hive, and your sire’s House, great honor.” She lowered her eyes to Path and continued. “I have known you for too short a time, but I am honored to meet the sire of my sister. While it has not been the Red Hive’s practice to let a pony help raise one of our princesses, I think that the time is right for a change, and you are the right pony to do so. Treat my sister well.”

“She is part of my family, and I can do no less,” Path replied gravely.

Vindictia nodded in acknowledgement, and then turned back to Carpacia. “I am ready, mother.”

Carpacia took the opportunity to give her one last hug before turning towards their audience. “My eldest daughter, Princess Vindictia, has come back to us! Unfortunately it is not to stay, as she fell in honorable battle and has used the Rite of Transference. This pony fought together with Vindictia with determination and bravery to make sure that Chrysalis’ invasion failed. Now she has returned her essence back to us.” She turned towards the crystal pony. “Beloved daughter, it is time for you to unite with us one last time before joining the Great Circle.”

Carpacia’s horn lit up, immediately followed by those of all the changelings gathered to partake in the ceremony. A red glow started to build around the crystal pony, growing brighter and brighter until she lit up the huge cave. At this point, all present were connected to their princess, and one final word came to them all.

Goodbye.

Carpacia touched the mark on Citrine’s chest, and Vindictia’s consciousness flowed into the hive-mind, leaving her knowledge for future generations, then her spirit dissipated into the ever-present life-energy of the world as she joined the Great Circle.

The glow about Citrine quickly faded, and she was left with an unexpected sense of loss.

Carpacia sighed tremulously before addressing the crystal pony once more. “Thank you for bringing my daughter back to us, Citrine Quartz. Know that from this day forth, you are a friend of the Red Hive and ever welcome to visit.”

Citrine gave the changeling queen a lopsided grin. “You’re welcome. Thanks for fighting to save my home.” She faltered then as she realized something. She snorted with derisive laughter. “My home,” she repeated. “Not really my home anymore. All in my posse died about twenty years ago. No family to go back to, and nothing in common with those left. I’m not sure what to do now.”

Path stepped up to Citrine. “If a home is what you are looking for, the House of Path would welcome you. You’ve shared some bad times with my children, so how about sharing some good times in the future?”

Citrine looked uncertain. “I dunno. This hive looks pretty inviting. These bugs seem to like me for some reason.”

Carpacia smiled indulgently. “It’s the delicious aura of bravery and loyalty that you radiate. You would always have appreciative companions here. Nevertheless, I think it would be best if you lived with a pony family, even an odd one like Lord Path’s.”

Citrine looked at Path, and he raised an eyebrow in silent query. “Pif’s your daughter, right?” she asked.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“She’s cute. I think I might take your offer.”

Path chuckled. “Not quite what I expected, but welcome to House Path.”

Citrine took a deep breath, let it out in a huff, and grinned. “Enough of this seriousness. I’m hungry – wanna go get something to eat?”

# # #

“Well, that was a useless waste of effort.”

“Patience, my dear. While the results were not what we hoped, the method was not at fault. We merely have to choose another event to influence.”

“Hmm… I believe I know the perfect one….”

# # # # # # # # #

Author's Note:

My mind also nearly exploded trying to keep track of the time changes! Anyone who understands some real physics knows that a lot is NOT intuitive. This universe's physics might vary, but it's no less complex.

Also damn difficult was writing the rhyming sentences!

The illustrations this chapter were by Baron Engel and Kat Miller a.k.a. Foxenawolf.

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