By Saddlesoap Opera
Twilight Sparkle sat on her bed reading the latest volume of a series of collected essays about applied thaumaturgy. Her purple eyes darted to and fro, and every minute or two her horn would glow and the page would turn.
Nearby, Spike was curled up in his basket-bed and enjoying an afternoon nap.
On the far side of the bedroom Owlowiscious was more deeply asleep, huddled quietly on his wooden perch.
Even for a Sunday, it was a slow, easy, restful, peaceful day.
It was, that is, until Spike started gagging.
Twilight looked down at the baby Dragon. “Spike?” she asked. “Are you all right?”
Spike was wide awake now, gripping the edge of his basket-bed with his front claws and fighting to cough up whatever was stuck in his throat. After a few moments more he finally belched out a blast of green flame, which coalesced into a loosely-rolled paper with scorched edges.
“Uhhgh…” Spike groaned, “that was a rough one!” He pounded his chest with a fist and let out a smaller second burp.
Twilight magicked up the letter and noted its damaged state. “That’s strange,” she said, as much to herself as to Spike, “letters from Princess Celestia aren’t usually burnt when they arrive. And this doesn’t look like the Royal stationery…” She unfolded the hovering letter and read it. Her eyes widened.
Spike had only just gotten his bearings when Twilight disappeared in a reddish magical flash.
Twilight flashed into being a few feet away from a wall of fierce orange flames. She yelped and hopped backward, glancing side to side to take in the scene before her.
Fire was devouring the dark, twisted wood of the Everfree Forest. Smoke darkened the afternoon sky, and birds and beasts of every description were flying and stampeding away from the blaze. All of this was terrifying enough, but the sight to Twilight’s right was what caught the breath in her throat:
Zecora’s home was burning.
The hollow tree’s canopy was an inferno, and fallen burning branches blocked the door. Some of the clay jars and glass bottles strung up from the upper branches had already fallen and smashed, while others were wreathed in strange-coloured flames and releasing noxious smoke.
“ZECORA!” Twilight cried out, galloping up as close to the hut as the heat would allow.
“Moto! Msaada! MSAADA!” Zecora’s voice was barely audible over the crackling roar of the flames.
“Stay calm! I’ll get you out of there!” Twilight’s horn glowed even brighter than the fire all around her, and the hut’s front door burst off its hinges. Zecora was visible inside, silhouetted by the smoke and flames.
Twilight teleported into the room with a burst of magic and then reached out to her friend. “Take my hoof!”
Zecora did so, and with another flash both of them were standing out in the open clearing where Twilight had first arrived.
Zecora’s striped hide was covered in soot stains and her breath was coming in wheezing gasps. “Th-Thank you, Twilight, for saving me. I nev–” a fit of coughing cut off her rhyme.
“Careful, now,” said Twilight, leaning into Zecora to support her. “Let’s just get away from here and call in some Ponies to put out this fire.”
Zecora turned to follow Twilight, but then paused and turned back to her blazing hut. “W-what shall I do if my home falls? All I have is within those walls!” She moved to race back inside but a second bout of coughing brought her to her knees.
“It’s too dangerous! We have to go!” Twilight magicked Zecora into the air and galloped away, levitating the stricken Zebra along behind her.
The last thing Zecora saw before passing out was the bright blaze surrounding her home shrinking away behind her in the distance.
Zecora came to her senses in an unfamiliar bed.
The cool air held the sharp scent of antiseptic soap, and the ceiling was painted a vivid green. She looked down and saw that her right fetlock was wrapped in clean white gauze.
Twilight Sparkle leaned into view over her from the left and a pink Earth Pony nurse leaned in from the right.
“Oh – you’re awake! Thank Celestia!” Twilight said. She smiled in relief.
“You’ve got a couple of slight burns and you inhaled a fair bit of smoke,” added the nurse, “but you should be fine with some rest. We won’t have to keep you long. You’re lucky your friend here came along when she did!”
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” insisted Twilight. “Zecora alchemically treated a letter the same way I do to write to the Princess, and wrote me for help, all while inside a burning building!” She turned back to the Zebra. “That was some really quick thinking, Zecora.”
“When one fears breathing one’s last, one cannot help but think fast,” Zecora replied. Her voice was low and scratchy. She coughed softly. Twilight magicked a glass of water over to her and helped her take a sip.
Zecora’s sea-green eyes widened with a realization. “Oh! But what about my poor old tree? Was there an answer to your urgent plea?” Zecora coughed again, louder.
Twilight winced. “Easy, now! The fire brigade put the fire out…but I’m afraid it looks like there was a lot of damage to your home.” Twilight looked away for a moment and sighed softly before putting on a brave face. “I want you to know we’re all ready to do whatever we can to help you get back on your hooves, Zecora. For now, just try to get some rest. We’ll find you a place to stay, and I’ll find out how that fire got started – I promise!”
Zecora nodded. “You are most kind, Twilight my friend. I will stay here until I mend.” Her head flopped back down on her pillow; the conversation had been more tiring than she’d expected.
Twilight smiled and backed away from the bed before trotting out of the room and into Ponyville Urgent Care’s brightly-lit hallways.
How could this have happened? Twilight mused as she trotted through the sterile halls. The weather team said they didn’t spot any wild lightning in the area, so something else set the fire. The beasts in Everfree don’t use fire and the nearest Dragon is far from there. She sighed.
How could this have happened?
Twilight trotted past the waiting room, where Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Rainbow Dash and several other townsponies were waiting, soot-darkened, for a precautionary checkup. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were discussing the plot of an adventure novel. Rarity was anxiously magicking a brush through her mane, inspecting every strand for burn marks. Pinkie was wearing a bright red volunteer fire marshal's hat. She waved at Twilight.
"Good work out there, everypony!" Twilight said as she passed, but her nagging thoughts about the fire remained.
She stepped out into the cool of the evening, and nearly tripped over the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
“We saw the brigade go inside,” said Scootaloo. “They were all sooty! Was it a bad fire?”
“We came right away!” Added Sweetie Belle. “Is Zecora all right?” The little foal pushed past her Pegasus companion to approach Twilight.
“Oh, please, Twilight, please tell me she’s okay!” Apple Bloom begged, nearly bowling her friends over as she darted forward. Her bronze-coloured eyes were massive and shining with upwelling tears. She pressed her front hooves to Twilight’s shoulders.
“Don’t worry, my little Ponies,” said Twilight, “Zecora’s just a little singed around the edges. She’ll be just fine in a few days.”
The three foals breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s a pity about her home, though,” Twilight continued. “There was a lot of damage.”
“Well, that’s just awful!” said Apple Bloom. “How’d that fire get started, anyhow?”
“Actually, I was just wondering that myself,” Twilight replied.
“I know!” said Sweetie Belle, her face lighting up. “We could be the ones to figure out who set this fire!”
“Yeah!” said Scootaloo, spreading her wings in a triumphant pose. “Zecora deserves justice! We could be…”
Apple Bloom chimed in with her two friends: “CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS – FIRE INVESTIGATORS!”
Nurses popped out of several hospital windows and hissed out an annoyed shushhh! at the three Crusaders’ outburst. At the farthest window a disheveled blue Earth Pony popped her head out and barked excitedly before being dragged back inside.
“Investigators?” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Weren’t you fortune-tellers just this morning? I lent you a book about ceromancy and everything.”
“Yeah, well we didn’t get our Cutie Marks, so we kinda gave it up,” admitted Sweetie Belle.
“But I got a good feelin’ about arson investigatin’!” Apple Bloom chimed in.
“Yeah! Me too!” agreed Scootaloo.
“Oh. Well, all right.” Twilight said. “…Wait. Arson? Nopony said anything about arso–” Before she could finish, a sudden arrival cut Twilight off.
“Oh – Twilight! There you are!” Fluttershy flapped down from above and landed next to her friend. The yellow Pegasus was clearly winded from her flight, not being accustomed to traveling any real distance by air. “I need your help right away. The fire in the forest scared a Mountain Lion out of his lair, and now he’s in the middle of town and raising an awful fuss. I’m not sure I can calm him down on my own!”
“What’s a Mountain Lion?” asked Scootaloo.
“Shucks, that’s easy!” said Apple Bloom. “Granny Smith told me all about the funny critters in the Everfree Forest. Timber Wolves are ornery beasts made outta timber, and Mountain Lions…”
A deafening noise halfway between a roar and an avalanche echoed up from the distance.
“…Whoa!” said Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo in unison.
“Uh-oh. We’d better get over there, ‘Shy.” Twilight turned to face the Crusaders. “You three stay out of trouble, all right?”
“Don’t you worry none, Miss Twilight!” said Apple Bloom. “We’ll figure out who had it in fer Zecora in two shakes of a Pony’s tail!”
Twilight frowned and was about to comment when another roar sounded. She shook her head and galloped off, followed by Fluttershy.
After a brief pause, the three foals shared a series of glances.
“Um, so what now?” asked Sweetie Belle.
“We do what Young Daring Do would do,” said Scootaloo, striking a heroic pose. “We check out the ruins.”
Ranger Hickory sighed dejectedly as he trotted through the blackened forest clearing. The ash-covered ground stained his clay-coloured hooves.
The Earth Pony adjusted his broad-brimmed green hat and looked up at the charred treetops; he clucked his tongue at what he saw.
“No doubt about it,” he said to the empty clearing. “This was a good one.” He slowly shook his head.
Nearby, three pairs of wide eyes watched the ranger from the depths of an half-burnt bush.
“I bet he’s the one!” whispered Apple Bloom. “Look at his Cutie Mark!”
“Yeah…a fire Cutie Mark is hard to explain away,” Scootaloo whispered back. “Let’s get him!”
“Shhhh!” chided Sweetie Belle. “He’ll hear you!”
The ranger turned to look at the far edge of the clearing. “Hello…? Is somepony there?” The only answer was the usual faint sounds of the Everfree Forest’s flora and fauna. The ranger shrugged and resumed his exploration.
“It’s gotta be him…criminals always return to the scene of the crime,” said Apple Bloom.
“I guess it is pretty suspicious, him being here,” admitted Sweetie Belle.
“It is! We gotta take him in before he gets away!” Scootaloo pounded her front hooves together menacingly.
“No, wait!” said Apple Bloom. “We gotta solve this case properly - like the Hackney Colts would!”
"Okay, so how do we do that?" replied Scootaloo.
Apple Bloom narrowed her eyes and smiled. "We bring our evidence to the authorities."
The streets of downtown Ponyville were all but empty, the majority of the townsponies all either hiding in their homes or evacuated from the area.
Twilight Sparkle lunged to her left and rolled behind a wide pile of sandbags. Once she'd righted herself she peered over the top of the pile. There it was: the Mountain Lion.
It was a mass of mossy grey boulders the size of a small cottage, held by some invisible force in a rough and stocky feline shape. Its deep-set emerald eyes twinkled in the afternoon light. It stomped its front paws with tremor-inducing force and let out another echoing roar.
Fluttershy crept into view on a nearby rooftop. She gulped, trembling with fright.
"P-Please try to calm down, mister Mountain Lion!" Fluttershy was barely audible over the stone-on-stone grinding of the Mountain Lion's movements. "I know the f-fire must have been very scary, but if you stay here, you could do a lot of -"
The Mountain Lion gave a swish of its tail; the chain of spherical stones bashed the corner off of a shop's frontage.
Fluttershy winced. "-damage."
Twilight ducked back down behind the sandbags. "Okay, think, Twilight, THINK!" she muttered to herself. "There must be a spell that will help calm this thing down." She started pacing back and forth, her brow furrowed in concentration. On her fourth circuit she nearly bumped into the Cutie Mark Crusaders for the second time that day.
"Hey Twilight!" said Scootaloo. "Great news - we found a suspect!"
"What are you girls DOING here?" hissed Twilight. "Can't you see there's a monster on the loose?"
Apple Bloom peeked over the sandbags. "Well, yeah, he's pretty hard to miss!"
Twilight magicked the foal back down behind cover. "I MEAN, you three need to get out of here! Get to safety! NOW!"
The Mountain Lion roared once more. Fluttershy squeaked in response.
"But you have to review our evidence!" said Sweetie Belle.
"We're investigators, remember?" said Scootaloo.
"Yeah, and yer the closest thing to the authorities we know!" agreed Apple Bloom.
Twilight groaned in annoyance. "Okay! Fine! I'm sure your evidence is fine! Case closed! Now will you please RUN?" She ducked as a large barrel sailed over the sandbags, propelled by a light swat of the Mountain Lion's paw.
"Thanks, Twilight!" the Crusaders said in unison, and galloped off. Seconds later, half of a shattered wagon crashed down in the exact spot they'd just been occupying.
After a long day's surveying, Ranger Hickory was taking a break. The clay-coloured Earth Pony stallion trotted through the Stirrup Street marketplace contentedly, tipping his broad-brimmed hat to the vendors in their stalls as he passed.
Suddenly, a trio of rambunctious foals leaped on top of him with a glad cry:
"CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS, CITIZENS' ARREST!"
Sweetie Belle clung to his left hind leg, Apple Bloom held his front right, and Scootaloo hopped up and down on his back. All three were shouting at a deafening volume, and the altercation soon drew a sizable crowd.
“ARSONIST!” bellowed Sweetie Belle.
“CRIMINAL!” shouted Scootaloo.
“LEAVE ZECORA ALONE!” added Apple Bloom.
“For Celestia’s sake, somepony get them off me!” begged the stallion.
"What's happening?" asked one of the vendors.
“This is the Pony who burned the forest!” said Sweetie Belle.
“I most certainly am NOT!” insisted the stallion. “My name is Ranger Hickory, and I help PREVENT fires!”
“Likely story!” said Apple Bloom. “Then how come ya didn’t prevent this one, hmm?”
The ranger’s face twisted in confusion. “B-But, I hadn’t even arrived when the fire started!”
“Well, isn’t that convenient?” said Scootaloo. She swatted at the back of the ranger’s hat, tipping it over his eyes.
“Hey!” said the ranger. His shrouded sight and the foals’ efforts at capture made him stagger to and fro.
The townsponies in the crowd, slowly becoming caught up in the young investigators’ fervor, began murmuring and whispering to one another.
“And let’s not forget your Cutie Mark, Ranger…if that is your real name!” Sweetie Belle pointed an accusing hoof up at the campfire on Hickory’s flank.
“I told you – my Special Talent is fire safety! And, well, of course ‘Ranger’ isn’t my name!” said Hickory as he straightened his hat.
“A-HA!” said Apple Bloom. “Gotcha! I knew you’d slip up if we kept on ya!”
“W-What!?” The ranger looked down at Apple Bloom in utter disbelief.
The crowd gasped in shock, and the volume of their murmurs increased. Some pointed at the ranger or shouted “Arrest him!” or “The horror!”
"He's a criminal!" insisted Scootaloo. "Twilight Sparkle checked our evidence and everything!"
“Twilight's with you?” said a blonde-maned light red Earth Pony mare in the middle of the crowd. “That's good enough for me!"
“Call the town guards!” said the red-maned off-white Earth Pony mare next to her.
“Won't somepony PLEASE think of the foals?” cried out the green-maned pink mare at her side.
“You can NOT be serious!” said Hickory, horrorstruck. “This is preposterous!”
“Nuh-uh! This! Is! Justice!” Scootaloo spread her wings and lifted a front hoof.
A pair of ash-grey Earth Pony stallions wearing badge-emblazoned sashes galloped through the crowd to face Hickory. One of them stepped forward and spoke:
“All right, whoever you are. We’re taking you in for questioning on suspicion of arson.”
The Crusaders and some of the assembled Ponies cheered. Hickory simply stared, eyes wide and mouth agape.
Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo released the stunned Earth Pony and stood back to let the guards take him into custody. It wasn’t until the guards flanked him and started leading him away that Hickory finally found his voice.
“You can’t do this!” he wailed. “I teach fire safety for a living! I would never do anything to spread a fire or leave one unattended!”
Sweetie Belle sat down in the street, and put a pensive front hoof to her chin. “…Leave one…?” The little Unicorn’s wide pupils shrank.
Hickory continued to profess his innocence as the guards all but dragged him away.
“I’m VERY careful! I always keep water near a fire, and I would never, EVER leave a fire alone – not even a candle-flame!”
Apple Bloom sat down next to Sweetie Belle. “Not even a…?” Her brows knitted with worry.
Hickory final shout faded into the distance. “I’m inn-nn-o-o-o-c-ee-ee-ee-nt!”
Scootaloo sat down behind her two friends, swallowed hard, and joined them in a meek, quiet, horrified:
Earlier that morning, the Cutie Mark Crusaders sat in a clearing on the Ponyville side of the outskirts of the Everfree Forest, huddled around a clay bowl full of water. Each foal held a different colour of lit beeswax candle between her teeth. A fourth candle – from which the others had been lit – sat burning nearby in a small metal holder.
“Nww wht?” asked Apple Bloom around the candle.
Sweetie Belle was perusing a thick book lying open on the loamy soil. A few stray drops of wax had fallen here or there on the pages. “Nww whh dri’h vuh wax innoo vuh bwwl,” she said. To demonstrate, she leaned forward and allowed some white candle-wax to drip into the water bowl.
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo did likewise, adding dollops of orange and yellow wax to the water.
Scootaloo set down her candle on the soil and snuffed it with a small puff of breath. “Okay! So…what did we get?”
Apple Bloom let her candle drop and disinterestedly scuffed dirt onto the flame. She peered down into the bowl. “Uhhh…no idea.”
“Wait, Apple Bloom!” said Sweetie Belle, spitting her candle into a nearby half-dried mud puddle. “Yours sort of looks like a…no, wait. Never mind.”
Scootaloo sighed in irritation. “This is dumb! I thought the wax was supposed to show our Cutie Marks!”
“Well, maybe it’s not clear cause we don’t have ‘em yet?” suggested Apple Bloom.
Sweetie Belle frowned. “So…we can’t predict our Cutie Marks until we get them?”
Apple Bloom matched her friend’s frown. “Shucks. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense.”
Scootaloo stirred at the wax blobs floating in the water with a front hoof. “Hmph. I still say we shoulda gone for Archaeology Cutie Marks – like Young Daring Do!”
“…Or what about detectives, like the Hackney Colts?” offered Apple Bloom.
“Ooh! We could bring crooks to justice! I’m liking this idea!” said Scootaloo.
Sweetie Belle shrugged. “I thought for sure this one was gonna work. Oh well. All right – saddlebags?”
The other two foals shimmied their bags onto their backs. “Check,” said Scootaloo.
“Book…check!” said Sweetie Belle, slipping the wax-spattered book into her bag. “Cutie Marks?”
The three foals checked their own and each other’s flanks. “…No check,” said Apple Bloom with a sigh.
“Okay! Let’s go!”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders galloped off for town, leaving behind the bowl, the three still-smoking snuffed candles…
…and a fourth candle still very much aflame.
As the sun crept down toward the horizon, Spike busied himself preparing a guest bed for the library’s temporary guest.
“Sorry again that Twilight isn’t awake to help you settle in, Zecora,” he said as he unrolled a comforter. “But she’s still resting after that Mountain Lion attack this afternoon.” Spike shuddered ruefully. “Glad I didn’t have to be there for that. She was barely making sense when she finally came home. Yikes!”
Zecora was standing nearby watching Spike work and keeping most of her weight off of her bandaged front leg. She shrugged. “I suppose into each Pony’s life there comes some small measure of strife.”
Spike frowned. “Oh. Right. Sorry, Zecora. I guess you had a pretty rough day, too, huh?”
“Don’t feel bad, little Spike. I’m not upset or the like.” Zecora gave a half-smile that stopped before her eyes.
“That’s a relief. Okay – your suite eez all pray-pared, madame,” said Spike, putting on a fancy accent. He bowed and gestured to the freshly-made bed and small pile of herbals, geography guides and poetry books with a sweep of his claws.
“A fine place it is you’ve made up there! But I think I shall go get some air.” Zecora turned and headed for the library’s front door.
“A walk? Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Don’t worry – I will not walk far. You’ll see me before the evening star.” Before Spike could answer, Zecora was already trotting out into the early evening.
Spike busied himself with re-shelving books for a few minutes, but then there came a knock at the library's front door.
Spike ambled over and opened it, revealing an imposing stallion wearing a town guard's sash.
Upstairs, Twilight groaned in her bed and curled deeper under her blanket at the sound of hoofsteps on the stairs. Dealing with the Mountain Lion had left her sore, exhausted, and nursing a fierce headache.
"Spike, I said I didn't want to be disturbed," Twilight muttered. She thrust her head under her pillow.
"Miss Sparkle?" said the stallion. "I don't mean to intrude, but I need to confirm your statement about the Everfree Forest arson case."
Twilight's head jerked upright, sending the pillow flying.
“I’m too young to be a vagabond!” lamented Sweetie Belle as she and her companions trotted down the road out of town at a slow, heavy-hoofed pace.
“A what?” asked Scootaloo.
“It means a hobo,” said Apple Bloom. “And no, I ain’t a dictionary,” she added before Scootaloo could open her mouth again.
Scootaloo frowned at the comment for a moment before speaking. “Well, we don’t have a choice, do we? We’re arsonists!”
“We’re criminals!” said Apple Bloom.
“We’re doomed!” wailed Sweetie Belle.
“It’s fer the best,” said Apple Bloom sadly. “If anypony ever found out it was us who set that fire, we’d be locked up for forever an’ a day. Better we just run, an’ not have to face our families.” Her lower lip quivered.
“Well, maybe we’ll get Cutie Marks for being hobos?” suggested Scootaloo, but her heart wasn’t in it.
All three Crusaders hung their heads; it was going to be a long walk to Stalliongrad.
After a few sad, silent minutes of walking, the foals found that they had come as far as the edge of the Everfree Forest, not far from the fire site. The scent of wood smoke still hung heavily in the evening air.
“I guess criminals really do return to the scene of the crime,” mused Sweetie Belle.
“Wait. Do you hear somethin’?” Apple Bloom tilted her head and shifted her ears.
“If this is another chicken joke…” Scootaloo warned.
“No! I hear it too! Listen!” Sweetie Belle fell into step next to Apple Bloom.
Intrigued, Scootaloo followed along.
Ahead, near the heart of the burnt clearing, the foals could make out Zecora’s striped silhouette against the almost-entirely-black background. She was sitting near her blackened tree-home and cradling a cracked and charred wooden mask in her front hooves. With her head lowered and her eyes closed, she solemnly sang:
“Malaika, nakupenda Malaika. Malaika, nakupenda Malaika.
Nami nifanyeje, kijana mwenzio, nashindwa na mali sina, we, ningekuoa Malaika.
Nashindwa na mali sina, we, ningekuoa Malaika.”
Slowly, silently, Zecora began to weep.
In the foliage under which the foals had concealed themselves, Apple Bloom sniffed back tears of her own. “Sh-She sounds so…so sad! We can’t just run away! We can’t!”
“B-But we’ll get thrown into a dungeon!” whimpered Sweetie Belle.
The two foals turned to look at their Pegasus companion.
Scootaloo, her eyes overflowing with tears, sniffled and squeaked unintelligibly.
A moment later, Zecora turned to face an eruption of sound and colour from a nearby bush.
“Oh, Zecora! This is all our fault!” Apple Bloom rushed forward and slid down onto her belly in front of the startled Zebra.
“WE started the fire!” Sweetie Belle slid up next to Apple Bloom.
“Waaahhhhh!” Scootaloo slid into place next to Sweetie Belle, still too overcome to speak.
“We’re so sorry, Zecora!” Apple Bloom continued. “It was an accident! We were playin’ with candles…”
“…And we forgot to put them out!” added Sweetie Belle.
“S-S-Sorr-rr-eeee!” sobbed Scootaloo.
Zecora looked down at the trio in shock. Soon, however, her horrified expression faded and she smiled a bittersweet smile. “Little ones, don’t be alarmed. I know you’d never want me harmed.”
“W-We’ll do whatever it takes to make things right!” Apple Bloom vowed. “We’ll clean up your home all by ourselves!”
“I’ll get a paper route to pay for replacing those masks!” said Sweetie Belle.
“I’ll get FIVE!” wailed Scootaloo.
“These masks were gifts from special friends,” Zecora replied. “Mere bits cannot make amends.” She traced a hoof across the ruined mask’s edge and sighed.
The Crusaders’ jaws dropped in despair.
Zecora’s expression softened. “…But perhaps they could be made anew, with help from you, and you, and you.” She touched the top of each foal’s head in turn.
“R-Really?” asked Apple Bloom.
Zecora nodded. “You say you’re sorry for what occurred. I’m glad to take you at your word.”
“Then of course we’ll help!” said Apple Bloom.
“You bet!” agreed Sweetie Belle.
Scootaloo nodded and then fanned herself with her front hooves, fighting back a fresh surge of emotion.
Just then, a rustle from the edge of the clearing caught the four’s attention.
“While you three are still in an apologetic mood, I think there’s somepony else you might want to talk to.”
Twilight Sparkle stepped into view, followed closely by a somewhat worse-for-wear Ranger Hickory.
The three foals gulped.
As the Cutie Mark Crusaders worked at shoveling ashes, planting saplings and brushing the walls of Zecora's home, they dictated a Friendship Report:
Today we learned that you should always be safe and careful around fire,
and also that even if you’re afraid of being punished, it’s better to admit what you did wrong
and try to make amends than to run away from something you did.
Ranger Hickory cleared his throat.
Oh, and also, Ponies are innocent until proven guilty.