As Epiphany reached the primary meeting room in Twilight’s castle, she started to get a sense of dread; she could hear yelling, squawking and angry whinnying coming from the room. In the many times she had been at the castle, she never heard anything nearly as violent as this. With a heavy sigh she opened the door to the highly polarized room.

Pif was not expecting there to be such a heated debate, and she surely hadn’t expected them to literally be on the opposite side of the table. Orlare, of all 'lings, was half-standing with her front hooves on the table, her wings spread open and her ears pinned back, practically screaming, “You dare call me a coward?! It is you who are the cowards! Only an ignorant fool decides to take the life of thousands on a whim!” She pointed her hoof at Carpacia who was on the other side of the table. This action only served to raise the tension and the anger in the room even further.

Carpacia was about to stand up, but Long Path moved before she did. Letting out a loud changeling skree that made Polistae back up slightly. He then bellowed, “YOU DARE CALL US COWARDS?!” His eyes narrowed. “I am all for peace, but there was no other option! We defended all of Equus from this global threat! We lost ponies, thestrals, griffons, and changelings on that day! It took all that we had and still the Crystal Kingdom was nearly destroyed because of it!” He stomped his hooves on the table.

It was then that Shining Armor stood up and started to talking to back up Path. “In fact I saw a lot of good people die, but none of them were Yellow Changelings. Where was your support? When did you to rise to the defense of an ally? It’s so easy for you to claim to be the bigger 'ling when you refused to aid those you claim to have an alliance with! Argent lost a son! Carpacia lost a daughter! You speak of moral superiority but more than your chitin is yellow!” Shining huffed as he sat back down. Orlare did not have a defense, and she was floored by the aggression in the two ponies.

It was Cadence that instead jumped to Orlare’s defense as well as Lamina Both of them look mad. That was before Celestia intervened “This is not about the battle of Crystal Kingdom. This is about the tactical strike that occurred one week ago. We should all limit our comments and criticisms to that operation only.” The white alicorn sat down as did all of the others.

The room was still tense for a while before Lucida walked in followed by Spike, both carrying trays with drinks for everyone. “Let us remember that we are here to learn the exact circumstances of what happened. Once we have learned what has occurred, we can create legislation so that such a thing can hopefully never happen again, or at least it's covered by law,” Lucida spoke in a calm voice as she passed the cups to everyone who started to sip and calm down. She then took her place at the table as the meeting’s moderator. She banged her gavel and said, “I call this meeting to order. I believe that the first speaker is Cinder. As Strike Coordinator, she was the one to get the order to mobilize Blue’s squad from Herd Path.” Lucida nodded to Cinder who was seated there with Blue Streak.

Cinder started to talk. “From the public record of House Path, the vote to mobilize Blue Streak’s Fast Response Strike Team was passed three votes to two, with Princess Luna, Lord Long Path, and Lord Free Agent for the motion, and with Princess Twilight and Lady Roseclaw against. It was decided that for the quickest response, ultrahigh-capacity mana-capacitors were used and the squad’s limiters were removed. At 23:00, Blue Streak, Night Wing, Shattered Quartz and Ramona Axetalon took off. Expedient Trajectory was approved. Taking the northern route they arrived approximately six hours later.” She was interrupted by Dianthia.

“How could they travel that fast without teleportation?” she asked Cinder with a somewhat confused expression.

“Without going into detail, Path’s team is equipped with special mana capacitors, flight protection enhancements, and supersonic flight systems that allow them to go so high that air resistance isn’t an issue. Once they are at their highest altitude, their trajectory allows them coast at high velocity the rest of the way in. It allows them to reach anywhere we need them to do so quickly. I believe that Sir Blue Streak can continue from this point.”

Blue stood up as Cinder sat down. “Due to our enhancements, we were able to rest undetected on some cirrus clouds and establish a surveillance post. Axetalon’s superior far-sight coupled with Twilight Sparkle’s changeling detection spell enabled him to perceive details of the capital city from that height, and he was able to observe that roughly one in ten were Blue Changelings. The original fear that the city had indeed been taken over was verified. Sixteen hours later, we were joined by three wing formations from the Wonderbolt Corps. When Epiphany triggered the return crystal, the resulting ping on the crystal communicators was our signal to act. When the Blue Changelings reverted back to their base form, the population at large started to fight back. The Wonderbolts joined in while we combed the area for changelings fleeing the hive, especially the queen. She was spotted and we attempted to capture her. However, she chose to fight us and she was killed in the attempt. Her body was taken back to the House for analysis by Twilight, Azon and Techbird. After the remaining resistance was overcome, we investigated the hive to gather as much intelligence as possible. However, due to most of the significant data being present only in the hive-mind, that was only minor.” Blue Streak sat back down.

Tempers were about to flare again when Lucida took control of the situation. “Again, we are here to get facts above all else. We now know the basics of what happened in Saddle Arabia directly after the gambit was executed.” Lucida looked at Shining and Polistae, both of them looking like they were getting ready to launch into a verbal assault again. She hastened to forestall them. “Epiphany has some details to fill in the blanks for us.”

Pif stood up, uncomfortable under the glare of several of those present. “As Blue Streak said, most of the relevant intelligence was only present in the hive-mind. In order to protect myself from Queen Chrysalis’ influence, I severely restricted my access to that. However, I did recruit several of her brightest changelings as my assistants, and they had almost unfettered access. While there were still parts of it closed off to them, the records of the covert invasion of Saddle Arabia and its takeover were complete, and plans to do the same with more nations were also well under way. My grandmother made it plain that she intended to eventually subjugate Equestria, but it became clear to me that this was likely by pitting all her conquered nations against this country. Chrysalis was again taking the long view, and after learning the lessons of the Crystal Kingdom War, it’s quite possible that her plans might have succeeded this time. I attempted to change her mind about her plans of conquest through various means, but not only did she rebuff them, but she tried to corrupt me. In my assessment, my grandmother, Queen Chrysalis, was an irredeemable and implacable enemy of all nations and all races.”

There was quiet in the room as the listeners digested that information. Lucida gave them a few moments before announcing, “Next, we will hear from Orlare about the recovery efforts in the country.” Lucida made a motion for Polistae to begin.

She cleared her throat before speaking. “As this was all unfolding, we received a high-priority message from Lord Path indicating that he needed some of our best trauma counselors. Within a day, we had them at Friendship Castle. Joining them were General Diamondhard from the Crystal Kingdom and Technician Skytalon, one of Techbird’s chief assistants. We are in the process of helping the Saddle Arabian royal family recover. My best counselor is working on repairing the damage to the royal family, while others are working on the PR nightmare for changelings in the country. Diamondhard worked on increasing security and changing protocols, and Skytalon is working on changing the energy source of the distillation devices made by Pif to maintain the supply of water to key areas.” Polistae sat down after giving her report.

It was then that Path raised his hoof. And Lucida nodded for him to speak.

“We have successfully changed the energy source from love gel to standard mana energy. We are also working on setting up a satellite campus to not only begin offering advanced education, but also to house the volunteers that we'll soon be asking for to help run the water treatment center we are in the process of designing.” Path leaned back in his chair with a smile.

Lucida nodded. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, we are now ready for your report.”

Twilight stood up, levitating her notes in front of her. “Firstly, to ensure that we did indeed have Queen Chrysalis’ body, we confirmed the presence of the tracking spell that Epiphany attached to her some time back when she visited her granddaughter in Ponyville. This tracking spell was what enabled us to find Chrysalis’ new hive, and thus also ensured that we had the real Chrysalis and not a changeling fake. After a complete analysis of Chrysalis’s body, some rather unique issues were discovered, and the implications are startling. You can all read these in full in the complete reports that I have passed out to all of you, but I will bring up the top three irregularities.” She flipped through the large report. “Her body has a strong taint of corruptive magic in it. This indicates exposure to dark or nightmare-class magic. We believe that this was in part due to the fact that while Pif was battling Breezon she activated a certain spell. While we were able to banish the spell in Pif, we believe that the spell was festering in Chrysalis before she was killed.”

Celestia and Luna perked up at the news and listened intently.

“There is another thing that was noticed but cannot be explained. All changelings currently alive that were present during the invasion of Canterlot has a tell-tail signature that was left over after the fact. When we gave Free Agent, a.k.a. Queen Gossamer, a thorough checkup, we found it, and we subsequently have found it on other Blue Changelings, and to a lesser degree on all the changelings from other hives who had been there at the time. It’s a form of chitin strain caused by the love detonation generated by Princess Cadance and Shining Armor that is prevalent in a few key locations and is non-reversible. Chrysalis was at ground zero, and as such we would expect her to have the chitin strain patterns like all the others, but she does not. The fact that she is a queen does not affect the results because Free is one also.”

Twilight turned a page and continued. “Then there’s the final irregularity – the body isn’t as old as it should be. According to records, it should be at least two hundred years old, but instead it’s approximately seventeen, which means that she, or rather her body, was not in existence until after the invasion of the Crystal Kingdom, and definitely not present during the Canterlot invasion. This leads to a startling conclusion, one that neither I nor my team can disprove: this Chrysalis is not the same as the one who was defeated in the Crystal Kingdom, nor is it the same as the one expelled from Canterlot.”

The rest of the participants started to talk amongst themselves until Lucida banged her gavel to quiet everyone so Twilight could talk again.

“I will not speculate on the implications of these facts at this time, but we are currently working on extrapolating several scenarios and how to deal with them. This is what we know for certain so far.”

Lucida tapped the gavel a few more times.

“I believe that this concludes the meeting for today. I encourage everyone to read the detailed reports before we gather again tomorrow to discuss the ramifications.” Lucida banged the gavel and stood, as did everyone else. The other parties left the main meeting room already starting to converse. Lucida was relieved that the tensions had eased and they were back to actually talking civilly. Hopefully the same could be said tomorrow when they reconvened.

Soon Ponyville was practically buzzing with conversation and activity, with so many different races currently in Ponyville for the summit, they all started to talk.

Argent was wondering what he would do with his free time. For the most part, his kingdom had little to do with the situation, and with no other plans, he was left to himself. That was until Blue Streak and Luna walked up to him, smiling.

“King Glimfeather, we were hoping that thou wouldst be free tonight.” Luna said. “Blue and I have found a good place to dine. It is an Eyrish restaurant owned by a griff-pony, and has an artiste caste chef. I hear tis really good.”

Argent smiled. “You know what? I think that my schedule is open. Let’s go.” The king dismissed his guards, and the three of them left the castle and walked down the road. With the recent influx of griffons due to the summit, he was just another unknown face, and he was enjoying the anonymity. They soon walked into a place where they were shouted at in Griffish.

“Welcome!” both chefs yelled at once while a violet changeling walked over and guided them to a table.

Argent watched the cooks with interest. The place was somewhat crowded, but the conversations were quiet as they were all watching the chefs with fascination. A giant fire plume erupted in the center of the room as they moved the large slabs of meat into the flames. This was typical of Eyrish cooking – large portions, hearty spices, rare to medium cooking. They offered all kinds of cuts on the menu which proudly proclaimed ‘the finest meats from a variety of non-sapient species’.

“So what kind of cut wouldst thou like, Argent?” Luna asked as she selected something from the menu. Blue had already picked out what he wanted. Argent raised an eyebrow as he saw Blue pass a pill box to Luna and they both took a pill.

“What was that?” he asked.

“Oh!” Luna said as she looked back to him. “As thou dost know, the number of ponies that like to eat meat is very small, although tis not because of biology but due to their moral choice. However, griff-ponies have in a few generations been able to handle meat a lot better than ponies from Equestria. House Path’s medical wing examined them to determine how they manage to do so, and created this pill so that we could eat fattier kinds of food without getting sick.”

“I see,” the griffon said, and then chuckled as he picked a certain item on the menu named after him. It was called the Glimfeather Cut.

The waitress came back to take their orders. “You are going to like that cut,” she told Argent. “The chefs themselves came up with it. It’s a very large cut from the most flavorful area. They said it's the only cut that is worthy of royalty.”

Luna snickered a bit, realizing the waitress did not know that she was actually speaking to the king after whom it was named. “How about we get three of the Glimfeather Cuts, then?”

Blue nodded in agreement and the waitress left.

“So, you just walk around, and everyone leaves you alone?” Argent asked Luna with a grin.

“Well, not really. Ponyville is something of an exception. Between my sister, Twilight and all the chaos that happens here, tis not too exciting when royalty shows up,” Luna explained with amusement, and the king smirked a bit in return.

The trio continued to converse as their meal arrived. Argent looked at the steak and licked his lips while Blue and Luna gawked at theirs.

“I… was not expecting it to be so big,” Blue commented.

“Neither did I,” Luna agreed.

The waitress then decided to speak. “The Glimfeather Cut is also the largest steak we have. We have a challenge that if you can eat it and all the sides in one sitting, it's free, and you get a T-shirt.”

Blue looked over his cut. “This has to be like two kilos!”

The waitress just grinned. “Two and a quarter kilograms, to be exact.”

Argent just laughed as he started to dig in. “What? You can topple a mad queen twice, but you can't eat a steak?”

Blue grinned. “Oh, you are so on!” Blue started in as well, and Luna immediately joined them.

Two hours later, the trio walked back into the castle. Argent was grinning, rather satisfied with his shirt. It was plain white and said, “I survived the Glimfeather cut!” and had a picture of a generic griffon with wide eyes staring at a huge steak. Behind him were Blue and Luna. They had T-shirts as well, but neither of them was smiling. Blue’s stomach looked like it was double its normal size as he groaned, dragging his hooves along the ground, and Luna was not much better.

Eventually they ran into Roseclaw who just blinked and looked at the three of them. “What happened to you guys?!”

Argent just laughed. “I had a light lunch before dinner. These two, however, could not handle a royal appetite.”

Luna and Blue just fell over onto their sides, groaning as Argent chuckled and continued down the hall, proudly proclaiming, “I have yet to meet a meal that I couldn’t conquer!”

Rose looked down at the pair who had already passed out from the food coma. She faceclawed and mumbled, “The House Champions, everybody...”

Path walked out of the main room yawning slightly as he headed toward his private room. He was exhausted from the yelling and the debating; normally he had more control over his emotions. He was just glad that Lucida was able to keep everything under control and prevent the sides from becoming too polarized. He was proud of the skills that he had taught her.

Path shut the door to his room and went over to his bed, flopping onto it with a groan. Soon the door opened up and Roseclaw slinked in. Shutting the door behind her, she then walked over to Path.

“You always seem to work too hard, even when things get too intense for your own good.” Roseclaw sighed as she leaned in, crooning slightly before she nuzzled him, Path just blinked a few times.

“Hmmm… I didn’t know you were attracted to me, Carpacia.” Path looked up at her with a tired grin.

Rose gasped and took a few steps back before she narrowed her eyes. “How did you know?” the fake griffon said calmly.

“Simple – I can always smell myself and my other herd mates on each other. It’s what happens when you curl up in a pile every night to pass out. You, on the other hoof, smell lightly of sweat and iron. You actually emulated her scent well; you just forgot about the other scents,” Path explained.

“So how do you know that I’m Carpacia and not another different harvester or queen?” Rose challenged him with a grin as she crossed her arms defiantly.

“Because while you didn’t think I was looking, you were practically eye-humping me for the entire meeting.” He chuckled a bit. “So what do you really want?”

The griffon rolled her eyes and transformed back into Carpacia. “I have acknowledged you as a suitable sire for one of my general princesses. I need one because of Iron Chitin’s… fall… during the Crystal kingdom siege. There always needs to be an odd number of generals.”

Path just blinked at her. “You want me, to sire a queen? Don’t get me wrong – I think that’s a pretty high honor to even be considered, but before anything else, I need to talk to my herd about it. If all of them are okay with it, then I will consider it once we go over some conditions.”

She just grinned. “The Red Hive values strength and honor above all other things. You lead a powerful Griffonian Hose, and you not only beat the Mad Queen once, but you also beat her top general in unarmed combat without the help of any of your allies or magic. Consider me very impressed, Lord Path. You should ask your herd what they think. The offer is on the table.”

She shifted back into Roseclaw’s form and left the room, leaving him to ponder her request.

Path couldn’t help but chuckle. “Rose is going to be strutting around for days when she hears about this – a breeding request by a second queen. Status level will go sky-high just from the request alone!” He then blinked a few times. “Does this make me a breeding stud?”

Twilight and Celestia had chosen to relax after the meeting by wandering through Ponyville without any specific goal, and they found themselves walking through the budding artist district of Ponyville. A few studios were open, and they were all wanting the patronage of the two princesses. Much like everyone else though, they waited in line and went into all of them one by one.

Some of them were… interesting.

Twilight couldn’t help but snicker a bit as she looked at a highly romanticized painting of Celestia raising the sun. “Huh! This looks a lot like the romantic period of five hundred years ago. Notice how the shadowing doesn’t quite match the ambient light? It gives it the trademark mismatched layered effect of the era. The background is in pleasant morning light, but you are in highly contrasting lights and shadows. I mean, clearly the image is meant to draw all attention to you and force the viewer to ignore the softer background.”

Celestia just chuckled as she walked with Twilight. “Been reading up on your art history, have you?”

Twilight just rolled her eyes. “I can do more than just friendship and magic! I can be cultured and proper… I just don’t like to be. It’s boring and stuffy.”

They stopped at a large statue in the middle of the gallery and gawked up at it. The sculpture looked like it was made of fine crystals of amethyst and garnet, with some emeralds and rubies. They were looking at a massive statue of Spike! However, this was very stylized since neither of the princesses could remember the last time spike was nearly two meters tall and sculpted like a draconian god. He was posed standing proudly, blowing fire up into the air.

Celestia said, “I see that there are still crystal ponies that adore Spike. I guess this explains why he splits his time between head curator of the Ponyville library, and staying in the Crystal Kingdom. He is the Crystal Champion after all.”

“Ever wonder why there so many champions of everything?” Twilight asked. “I mean, if you want to get technical about it, everyone in my herd is either a Lord or a Lady, Warforged, Champion of X, Y, or Z. Even Blue is “Forged by the Fires of Combat”, if you ask the right warrior-caste griffon. There seems to be so much war even as we try to reduce it.” Twilight sighed as they walked into a different wing.

“Civilizations go through cycles, Twilight. You might not know it, but concepts similar to House Path pop up every 750 years or so, last for one or two centuries, then crumble under their own size. Look back at the Roam Empire, or before that the Greeks. The only thing that makes me think House Path might be any different is the fact that you don’t seek to rule, you only seek to mediate, defend, and educate. Path has no desire to take over anything, nor any of your herd. I believe that is the critical difference, but we shall see what happens in a few generations. Usually, the further away one is from their progenitor, the more things start to drift.” Celestia walked into the next wing, then faltered and blinked.

Twilight oofed as she bumped into her. “What’s going on? Isn’t this the section where Flix is supposed to be exhibiting?”

Celestia nodded as she looked at the scene in front of her. Discord and Flix were handing out what looked like sunglasses to various people.

Flix shouted, “Remember that my paintings are best seen with these shades. If you do not wear them, you won’t get the full effect!”

Discord just laughed. “They will help you comprehend the wonderousness of his work!”

Twilight frowned. “Wonderousness isn’t a word...”

Flix walked over to the two of them with a grin. “Hi, Mom! Hi, Celestia! Have some glasses!” He handed them both a pair with a grin and then walked back to the center of the room with Discord, who was handing them out as well.

“Well… here goes nothing!” Twilight put on the glasses and proceeded to lose her grip on reality. The paintings looked like portals to worlds never seen by ponykind before. When she looked at Celestia, her mouth hung open. The two-dimensional caricature of Celestia that she beheld walked toward one of the portals. When she turned around, there was a brief moment when she was invisible while seen edge-on.

“Flix, how are you doing this?” Celestia asked.

“An artist never gives away his secrets, but I did have some help from the Professor,” Flix grinned.

Discord puffed out his chest. “Am I not the best instructor ever?”

Celestia leaned closer into the painting and was sucked into it. Twilight shrieked and went in after her.

The universe they were in looked like a kindergartener had painted it. Celestia looked like a giant golden stick-figure pony, and Twilight was a smaller purple stick-figure.

“How do we get out of here?!” Twilight wailed.

“We just need to find the right exit gate is all,” Celestia calmly replied as she kept walking. They shifted into another painting, and this one was quite different.

Celestia was in her golden armor, and looked dramatic due to the lighting in the painting. Every part of her was detailed, showing off her every curve and muscle. Twilight blinked a few times and looked at herself.

“Is this the painting we were looking at before?” she asked.

“That it is. I have to admit, I do love how they painted my plot; I can bounce a bit off of it!” She laughed as she headed into a different painting, and Twilight followed after her.

They took a few moments to look at the scene and they sat down after only a few seconds.

Stairs! Everywhere was stairs! Celestia and Twilight looked around, trying to figure out where one started and the other ended. Twilight lit up her horn and teleported, only failing to factor how her perspective would change. Celestia started to laugh as she fell down the stairs, then up the stairs, then to the left, then upside down….

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Oof! Ow!” Twilight whined as she finally collided with Celestia and they moved into the next painting.

Two cans of soup fell from the top of the painting and landed in the white void, one can said ‘Condensed Friendship’ with Twilight’s cutie mark on the side, while the other said ‘Condensed Sunlight’ and had Celestia’s cutie mark.

“Why are we cans, Celestia?” Can-Twilight asked.

“I believe this is from the Pop Art movement about eighty years ago,” Can-Celestia said.

“I don’t like this,” Can-Twilight whined.

“Follow me then,” Can-Celestia said coolly.

Both of the cans flopped over to one side – first the Celestia can and then the Twilight can, and they slowly rolled out of frame.

The next painting was confusing. A series of gold and white slash strokes represented Celestia, and a few purple slash strokes represented Twilight, the idea of direction was beyond them at this point.

“Are we in some kind of abstract impressionistic piece?” Celestia asked.

“I think this is Flix’s work,” Twilight replied. “He was talking to Rose and I about it earlier. Which means that now I can grab onto his signature!” Twilight moved close to Celestia and they disappeared, only to reappear back where they had started in front of Discord and Flix.

“You have three seconds to explain before I ground you!” Twilight growled, and even Celestia looked cross.

“Final project, my student! Find a way out of this!” Discord laughed as he jumped into a painting and disappeared.

Flix looked at him leave with wide eyes as he furiously tried to figure out what he could do. He backed away from his mother until he was stopped by an ornate desk which had a display of vases on it. Then he had an Idea!

He stood up straight. “Did you know that a Pinkie Promise is forever?”

One of the drawers opened up and Pinkie Pie sprung out of it. “FOREVVEEERRR!” she proclaimed.

Flix grabbed onto her hoof when she popped out, and stuck out his tongue as he was pulled back into the drawer with Pinkie. Twilight ran over to the drawer and opened it up, only to find it empty.

Celestia, however, was laughing, amused by the fact that Twilight was outsmarted by her son.

Twilight yelled, “FLIX, YOU ARE SO GROUNDED!”

Destined looked at Nox and Leather Wing, and they grinned back at him. “I don’t know, guys – I have a project I’m working on, and it’s kind of important.”

“Destined, your mother is the Princess of Magic and Friendship; you of all ponies should know the value of work and leisure balance. You owe it to yourself to go out with us tonight,” Nox said, his grin getting wider as Leatherwing nodded in agreement.

“Well… I guess it wouldn’t be too bad. I mean, it's not like we are going to be out all night, right?” Destined started to smile as the two thestrals beamed at him.

“Get your pouch and let’s go!” Leatherwing exclaimed as he started to walk out with Nox, and Destined ran out to join them. They started to walk toward the club where Vinyl Scratch was scheduled to play, although Destined was not to know that though.

“So, I was wondering,” Destined began, “I don’t think I ever asked you, Leatherwing, why are you so small in comparison to Nox?”

Nox started to laugh as Leatherwing sighed. “I asked Luna the same thing when I first met him. Long story short – I am what you would call a New World thestral, and Nox is an Old World thestral. His colony, a much larger one by the way, is clear on the other side of the world, and they have evolved differently from the New World breed over the centuries that we’ve been separated. They tend to be a lot stronger, but they aren’t quite as maneuverable in flight due to all of the extra muscle that they have. I think when Nox first showed up, the Solar Guard started to call him a walking tank.”

Nox smiled a bit. “Yeah, they did call me that. However, despite what you think, I am a rather good flier. I just think that the less those diurnal ponies know, the better. Let them think I fly like I have just one wing; it will just make the battle all the sweeter when I surprise them.”

Destined laughed as he shared the big thestral’s amusement, stopping as they reached the club door. Night was already well under way, and the steady beat of bass was vibrating Destined’s chest. “So this is where we're going?”

Nox nodded enthusiastically. “This is one of the best things that I have learned about the New World since I’ve been here. For those that are especially receptive to sound vibrations, this is the best show in Ponyville, so let’s get going!”

Nox pushed both of them inside with him using his muscular wings. Once they were all inside, Destined started to have a mini panic attack due to all the people and the pulsing beats. Leatherwing, however, was starting to bob his head to the music as his ears kept swiveling around, picking up on the notes too low or too high for Destined to hear. Nox kept the increasingly panicky alicorn calm until Leatherwing came back with three giant mangoes with straws in them.

Destined just blinked and stared at the mango as he took it. “What is it?”

Leatherwing smiled. “They call it a mango slammer. Have a sip!”

Destined took a small sip, and his eyes went wide. “This is the best thing ever!” he declared, and he started taking large gulps through his straw as Leatherwing smiled.

“Let’s go to the dance floor!”

The trio went to the dance floor as the ponystep started to play. As more and more people went onto the floor, they got separated.

Nox and Leatherwing were able to find each other via clicks and whistles, but it wasn’t until they saw fireworks that they knew where Destined was.

Destined was drunk. No, not drunk – he was sloshed. He was chatting up a unicorn who was grinning at him, half because he was making a show, and half because she was concerned. Nox pushed through the crowd and looked at the unicorn.

“How many mango slammers did he have?” he asked in a concerned voice.

“I saw him drink five. I think he’s on his sixth right now.” The unicorn giggled a bit as she took his hoof and a pen, writing down her mailing address for him. “Write me when you wake up tomorrow, hon.” She smiled and walked off, swaying her hips for the teenage alicorn as she left. Destined started laughing.

“I’m so smooth!” Destined exclaimed, nearly falling off of the chair.

Leatherwing groaned. “Luna is going to kill us! Come on, let’s get him home.”

Destined stood up as his horn started to glow. “I AM A MASTER OF SPACE AND TIME! TELEPORTING IS BUT A PALTRY FEAT!”

Nox’s eyes went wide. “WAIT! NO!”

The group teleported, not in a bang but more of a whimper as they blinked out of the club to who knew where.

Later that night the herd was meeting up after a rather eventful day. Path was feeling a bit pensive and Free picked up on it almost instantly.

“Hey Path, what’s wrong? You seem really wound up about something,” Free queried as he yawned.

“Well… yeah... there is something – something I was not expecting came up, so now I feel kind of awkward about it.” Path curled up a bit.

Luna just blinked in concern. “So what’s wrong?”

Path slowly sat up and looked at them all. “The Red Queen, Carpacia, has asked me to mate with her in order to breed a new princess.”

The four just looked at him for a moment, not saying anything while they took in that statement. Roseclaw was first to react. She got up, puffed out her feathers a bit, and grinned smugly as she strutted around the room. “Of course! It is only natural that those seeking to continue their line would find the strongest potential seed, and naturally our warrior is the strongest male in the land. It's obvious that she would want him. Who am I to deprive the world of such potency?” Her feathers poofed out more.

Free just looked at Rose. “If your ego gets any bigger, Twilight is gonna need to make another wing in the castle for it.” He laughed a bit as Roseclaw’s grin just kept getting bigger. He turned to Path and said, “More to the point though, do you think that she would let me have some fun with her? I mean Queen on Queen action would be pretty hot.”

Path chuckled a bit. “I could ask, but I'm fairly certain that the answer would be no. I remember Dianthia talking about how queens do not ever mix, be it due to political or genetic reasons.”

Free deflated slightly and he huffed. “Well, that’s no fun, but then again I bet I could feel what you're experiencing via the link, so I guess I’m going to have to rut vicariously through you?”

Luna spoke up. “I do not even understand why this is an issue. In the old days, it was common practice for noble mares to seek out worthy mates to sire strong heirs. Path has to mate to ensure that his strength is passed on. Actually, I am reminded of several cases in which warriors and knights were elevated to nobility so that their strength could be used to enhance the usually dwindling capacity of the old noble bloodlines.” Luna’s eyes grew distant as her recollections took her far into the past.

Twilight was the last to speak up as she hummed thoughtfully. “I think that this could be a good thing. I couldn’t really do any research last time because I wasn’t in any condition to do so, but now I am fairly certain that I could render myself invisible, take notes, and do some subtle scanning while the act is in process.”

Path stared at Twilight for a long moment before raising an eyebrow and saying, “Seriously? Your herdmate would be banging a changeling queen that’s not Free, and all you would think of is doing research?”

Twilight shrugged helplessly. “What can I say? It’s not my fault if it’s something that has never been researched before.”

Free laughed uproariously. “Oh, Sparkles, just when I think that you couldn’t get any more adorkable!”

Path smirked a bit. “Okay. I'm prepared to say no if even one of you objects, so it's time for a vote. Rose, what do you think?”

Roseclaw was still grinning. “Of course I'm okay with my warrior spreading his legacy to those who are worthy. And think of the boost in status that would give us! I would be annoyed if you didn’t!”

Path chuckled. “Okay, that’s one vote for yes. Free?”

“Since when have I ever objected to some guilt-free mutually agreeable banging? It’s not like she's asking to join the herd or anything. As long as you get to see the foal, I’m okay with it.”

Path nodded and turned to his next mate. “Twilight?”

Twilight tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I think this could be a win-win situation. As long as I can take notes and do passive scans, and I'm allowed to examine the offspring later, I'm okay with it!”

“I’ll let her know that those are your conditions,” Path replied before turning to the other alicorn snuggled up to him. “Luna?”

“I have already expressed my approval. I have seen Free’s dreams of the time that thou mated with him. I hope that thou dost bring that kind of … exuberance when it is time for thee to quench my fire.”

Path’s eyes went wide as saucers. Luna smirked, and the others joined in with laughter.

Path huffed a bit and grabbed the large blankets, pulling them over the group. “Oh, hush! I’ll let her know the decision in the morn–”

The group was startled out of their love pile as several large bangs went off in their room. In the center of the room, Destined appeared, five mangoes fell to the floor, and the aroma of booze wafted over the group. “I AM THE BUCKING GOD OF MANGOES!” Destined yelled, his eyes glowing a bright white as sparks came off his horn.

Nox appeared in midair and he did not have enough time to open his wings to gain lift before he slammed face-first into the floor. His body contorted backwards and he slumped to the carpet.

However, Leatherwing fared the worst. His back half was poking out of the ceiling, while his front half was poking out of a side wall. Instead of being frightened or passing out, he just looked at his rear with a dismal sigh, his tail still swaying back and forth. “This is why I can't have nice things.”

Destined started screaming out lyrics to one of the songs at the bar: “I am immortal, I have inside me blood of kings! I have no rival, No pony can be my equal! Take me to the future of your world!”

Destined stumbled around a few more times before Luna and Twilight got out of bed. Twilight casted a weak null-magic spell to disrupt his channeling. Luna teleported Leatherwing out of his predicament, and he reappeared mercifully intact in front of her. She also levitated Nox to his hooves and placed him beside Leatherwing. She did not look happy.

“You interrupted me with my herd. I enjoy my herd time. Why did you disrupt my herd time?” she asked with a quietly dangerous edge to her voice, and her eyes started to glow.

Leatherwing started to stammer as he was frozen in mid-sentence. “I... I... I thought he would like mangoes!”

“Wrong answer!” Luna teleported Leatherwing away and then glared at Nox.

Nox had a stupid, slightly tipsy smile on his face. He knew that he was in trouble, and nothing he could say would fix that. “I've got nothing. We got the colt drunker than hell because it took that much motivation for him to not freak out at a club. It worked though!” he added with a grin.

Luna glared at him and shouted, “TO THE MOON!”

Nox disappeared in a bright flash. Luna looked to the still softly singing Destined and she hit him with a sleep spell. She then teleported him into his room with a groan.

The others looked at Luna and blinked a few times. The dark alicorn walked back over with a pout on her muzzle, and dug herself back under the covers. “I like my herd time. I don't get enough opportunities, so I do not like disruptions! Cuddle time is now! I'll deal with it tomorrow.”

They all started to laugh as they found their favorite positions together under the large blanket. Almost everyone fell asleep rather easily since the day was long. Path, however, just lay there, thinking about how he was going to approach the new situation. He was certain that Carpacia would approach him again, and when she did, they would open negotiations.

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Nox looked up at the blue marble in the sky. “Maybe I shouldn’t have grinned at her when I replied….”

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