The sun was high over Sweet Apple Acres, the Apple family business set up on the outskirts of Ponyville. The large, organized rows of trees glistened with crisp apples ready to be picked. It was quiet most of the time, only to be broken by the occasional thump.
The strong hit to the base of the tree forced the apples to drop off the branches, many dropping into the buckets set on the ground. The orange mare below the base tilted her brown hat up, looking up into the leaves. "Ah applesauce!" Applejack said, noticing a few apples hadn't fallen. She lifted one hoof and tapped the tree, causing the last few strays to drop.
Smiling at herself, she bent down, picking up a few apples on the grass. Picking up the filled buckets, she walks them over to the wagon and sets them in the back. As she turned around, she heard her sister spill the bucket she had on her head.
Applejack frowned. "Come on Applebloom, we gotta get this done. Stop messin' around!"
The young yellow filly looked at her sister in a daze. "Ah’m sorry, AJ. Ah’m just a little tired." Her words were very slurred.
Applejack suddenly became worried at the sight in front of her; Applebloom was hardly able to keep her balance, constantly swaying back and forth. Her eyes were a bright red and her face seemed extremely pale. She also began to cough, which sounded really raspy.
"Applebloom, are ya all right?"
Applebloom tried to force a grin. "Never better, sis. Ah just need ta..." she stopped as she began to feel dizzy. Her legs couldn't hold her up anymore. She felt her head go blank as she collapsed to the ground.
"APPLEBLOOM!" Applejack screamed as she ran over to her sister’s fallen body. She put her hoof under the filly's neck, lifting her head up, immediately feeling the hot temperature. "Oh my, y’all‘re burnin’ up!"
She flipped Applebloom onto her back and sprinted to the house. Reaching the door, she rushed to the couch and laid her sister down. Applejack then sprinted to the kitchen, grabbing cold rags and put them across Applebloom's forehead.
Granny Smith and Big Mac came in after hearing the commotion and then panicked when they saw the sick filly on the couch. As they tried to drop Applebloom's temperature, Applejack left out the door, knowing there was one animal that could help.
Applejack ran through the dark trees of the Everfree forest; the thick leaves blocking out most of the sun. Coming around the bend, she saw the small hut she was looking for. Running past the torches, she barged through the front door. "Zecora!"
The female zebra fell off the staff she was balanced on, her meditation broken. Rolling off the ground, she rubbed her head from the impact, glaring at the barging mare. "Don't you ponies ever knock!? These intrusions make me want to get a lock!"
Applejack panted as she tried to get the information out. "Zecora, ah need your help. Applebloom's really sick!"
Zecora's anger disappeared, hearing that her good friend was not well. She stood up from the ground. "Young Applebloom is not well I hear? I shall gather my medicine quickly, my dear."
Inside the living room, Zecora mixed up multiple herbs she had brought from her home in a small bowl. All while doing so; she was whispering rhymes in a flowing, song-like tune. The other Apple family members sat back, their faces mixed with worry and curiosity as to what was happening to their young member and the mix the zebra was brewing.
Zecora finished the mix and fed it to Applebloom. As the drink went down her throat, the filly began coughing erratically. Zecora had to hold her down to keep her from falling off the couch. After a few moments, the struggling subsided, and Applebloom fell back asleep.
Zecora gathered up her herbs, putting them into her bag and started to walk to the door. Applejack ran over to her, blocking her path. "Hey, are ya done? What about Applebloom? What's wrong with her?"
Zecora smiled back at her. "Young Applebloom is fine. I will be back in some time. While I'm gone, you should leave her be, for her rest is the best remedy." She nodded to the other Apple family members before she walked out the door.
Despite the smile she gave, Applejack saw that Zecora was hiding something. It was as if she didn't want her to know something. She glanced back to Big Mac and Granny, who were over by the couch, then glared out the door and ran out.
Applejack reached the hut once again after some time. She ran and once again opened the door without knocking. She looked toward the back of the room and saw Zecora packing a large bag. She was stuffing it with blankets and different kinds of jars filled with strange powders.
"Zecora, what are ya doin’?"
Zecora turned and saw the mare standing there. Applejack saw the upset look in the zebra’s face, now knowing there was more to the strange departure.
"Why did ya just leave like that? What's wrong with mah sister?"
Zecora's eyes filled with sorrow. "Young Applebloom has grown very ill. It is a sickness that my herbs cannot distill."
Applejack's heart filled with fear of what that meant. "Is-is she gonna die!?"
Zecora suddenly went from worried to surprise. Seeing Applejack's panic caused her to give a slight chuckle.
Applejack was confused as to what happened. "What's so funny!?"
"Oh Applejack, I said it was a very bad fever. I never mentioned that it would be a life stealer."
"What? But ya-why did ya just leave? And where are ya goin’?"
"The sickness she has is a very rare type, in which it causes the bearer to fall like a kite. It will not take a life which puts me in a happy mood, but unless it is cured she will never be good."
"She will never get better? What did that brew ya made earlier do then?"
"I gave her a drink to lower her fever, but the herbs I have cannot relieve her. I am going to my land for a special herb, one that will take that potion and put it to the curb."
"Yer homeland? How long’re ya gonna be gone fer?"
"The journey is hard and one that is long I fear. It will be at least five days before I'll be back here."
Applejack knew that there were many dangers in the land between the borders. If something happened to Zecora on the way, Applebloom would never get better. She knew she had to help her out. "Ah’m comin’ too."
Zecora gave her a questioning look. "I know you want to help me on my way, but there is a problem with your look,I must say."
Applejack sat confused. "What in tarnation does that mean?"
"In my home, zebras are what you find, and they do not accept the pony kind"
"Well, what am ah supposed ta do?"
Zecora smiled and walked over to her counter where she began mixing some strange yellow powder with a blue liquid. When she was done, she walked back over to Applejack, and, without warning, threw it over the startled mare.
"Agh!" Applejack gagged at the horrible taste in the air. "What in the world are ya tryin’ to do to me!?" She then thought she felt her fur shifting around and moving, but figured it was the dust and liquid falling off of her.
As the dust cleared, she saw Zecora smiling at her. The zebra gave a chuckle. "I must say, your eyes and new colors definitely match. If you met a male zebra, you would be quite a catch."
Applejack just lifted an eyebrow at her. "What in the hay does that mean?"
Zecora grinned, sliding her tail around a mirror and held it up to Applejack, who nearly fainted when she saw her reflection staring back at her.
"WHAT IN EQUESTRIA DID YA DO TA ME?!"
“Wha- what in the- what did ya do!?” Applejack screamed as she stared at her reflection. She ran closer to the mirror to get a better look.
Her normally orange face was now covered by light tan fur, just a hint darker than white. Spread across her cheeks were black stripes going up towards her forehead. Lifting up her hat, she saw that her normal yellow mane had been transformed into a short mohawk that protruded upward. Following the new style down her neck, her hair still remained hanging down in its normal ponytail, but was also alternating black and white.
She took a step back, allowing more view to her body in the small mirror. Her entire body had also been turned into a mixture of near white fur broken up by black stripes across her back, legs and tail. She even noticed her cutie mark had changed; the once red trio of apples had become black outlines, followed by a swirl design toward the centers, similar in style to the pattern on Zecora's flank.
She had been turned into a zebra.
Applejack’s still green eyes shot from the mirror to its holder. Zecora simply smiled at her, admiring the spell she had made. Setting the mirror down, she walked over to the newly transformed farmer. “Well, I see you are surprised. I myself am filled with pride.”
Applejack glared at her now, furious at what the sorceress did. “Ah didn’t ask ta be a zebra, Zecora! Ah want ya ta fix this now!”
Zecora chuckled, and walked back to her counter, grabbing the pack she had made for the trip. Slipping it over her back, she walked towards the front door, but was immediately cut off by the enraged mare.
“Ah told ya, Zecora. Fix me up!”
Zecora never stopped smiling at the new zebra in her house. She adjusted the strap across her chest. “No need to be upset, young Applejack. Now, why don’t you make yourself a traveling pack?”
Applejack fumed up, her nostrils flaring out. “Why won’t ya listen to me!? Why did ya change me?”
“I have my reasons, my friend Applejack. This is the only way you can make the trek.”
The newly turned zebra lifted an eyebrow from curiosity. “What do ya mean?”
"I told you already how my land will work. I don't want you stopped by some zebra jerk."
Applejack suddenly remembered what Zecora had said about the land she was from, of how ponies weren’t accepted into the community. She began to wonder what would happen if she had tried to just walk into a zebra tribe as a pony; would they run in fear just like she and the other ponies used to do when Zecora first walked through the streets of Ponyville, or would they attack her, or possibly arrest her for just going there?
Applejack then suddenly felt guilty for snapping at the zebra. “So, ya did this to protect me?” the farmer questioned.
Zecora trotted over to Applejack and placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Yes I did, so we can walk free. I did not want harm to come to thee."
Applejack smiled for the first time since she had entered the hut. It felt good that Zecora was not only allowing her to come along on the journey, but making sure that she would be safe for the time that they would be gone.
Zecora dropped her hoof and walked over to her cupboard, pulling out another small bag. She tossed it over to Applejack, her grin gone. "Now, go and prepare for the trip a load. Make sure it is not too heavy for the long road."
"Well, what should ah get for the trip?"
"You know the basics for camping, my pony. You will need things like that for our journey." Zecora turned and grabbed her cloak and attached it around her neck.
Applejack looked up, thinking of all the things she could use for the road, 'okay. Ah am gonna need some blankets, some jugs for water, and ah can have Granny make me...' "Uh oh".
Zecora turned to the door and saw Applejack had not left yet, and that she seemed upset about something. "Why, what is wrong in your case? I can see something’s up by the look on your face."
"Uh, Zecora? What am ah supposed to do? Ah'm a zebra, and it might give mah granny a heart attack If she saw me like this."
Zecora just tilted her head to the side, looking at the shocked zebra in front of her. "what would be the problem to seeing youths ones you love? You should walk in that door and greet them like a dove. They are your family, so simply smile, and tell them you will be back in a while."
Applejack’s eyes went wide to what Zecora said. "Ah am not gonna go and see mah family like this! What do ya think they would do!?"
"Well why would you not? Your family will understand why you look-"
"Look missy!" Applejack cut her off before she was finished. "Ah may understand why ya changed me, but ah don't think they should see me."
Zecora shook her head. "Well, it would be best and they should. This spell I gave will last for good."
The farmer suddenly felt a mix of panic and anger. "WHAT!? Y'all can't change me back!? But-wha-hubba- ahhhhh!" she screamed out in frustration. "Why didn't ya tell me that before ya threw that fancy magic stuff on me!?"
Zecora gave a sad frown in Applejack’s direction. "I am sorry my pony friend. The problems with my plans I cannot defend."
Applejack began to sway back and forth, her head beginning to spin from the terrible revelation. The shock overwhelmed her to the point she lost all control for several seconds falling to the ground and blacking out.
Applejack felt herself slowly coming to. Her head felt like it had been stuck in a vice it was so sore. Inside of her head, she envisioned the dream that she had during her sleep. Applejack chuckled to herself through her daze. "Huh, that was a freaky lil dream ah had." Eyes still closed, she raised a hoof to her dull head. "Ah done believe ah thought ah was a zebra."
A sudden dump of water over her head shook Applejack out of her daze. "Ahh! What the..." She quickly got up from the ground, causing her hat to fall of her head. "What's the big-" She stopped as her eyes focused on where she was; she was not inside of her bedroom, or in her home for that matter. The hut that surrounded her was all too familiar.
"Well, you are finally awake. I was wondering how long you would take." a voice spoke from the side. "You've been asleep for the last hour. You had fallen to the ground like a wilted flower."
Applejack turned to see Zecora standing there with a recently emptied bucket set on the ground. Having no idea what was happening, AJ lifted her hoof to wipe the water off-
"Oh my gosh!" She screamed when she saw the black and white fur covering her foreleg. Glancing down, she saw the pattern continued up her whole body. Her heart began racing. "Ah... Ah wasn't dreamin’."
Zecora shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Come now, Applejack. We must get on with our trek."
The shocked zebra-pony sat there, trying to remember what had happened. She closed her eyes and thought to herself.'Alright, ah came here ‘cause Applebloom was sick. Then Zecora threw that freaky powder on mah body and-' she shot her eyes open, glaring at the zebra. "Zecora..."
Zecora sat there confused, seeing Applejack’s face changing suddenly. The anger in her eyes actually frightened her. "Uhhh."
"AH’M GONNA KILL YA!!!" Applejack then charged Zecora like a locomotive.
Zecora jumped back out of fright, but she didn't have enough time to get out of the way. Applejack crashed into her, slamming her into the side of the hut. Grunting from the impact, Zecora wrapped her hooves around her attackers head, pulling her close so Applejack couldn't get another hit. The two struggled for several moments before Applejack pulled backwards, causing both to fall to the floor.
Zecora crawled up; just fast enough to prepare for Applejack’s second rush. "Y'all turned me to a zebra and ya can’t change me back!" The former pony screamed in anger as she ran forward at her changer.
Zecora braced herself, dropping her head down as Applejack collided head on. Their hooves scraped on the ground as they pushed against each other. Coming up with a solution, Zecora dropped back, causing her opponent to stumble forward. As Applejack fell off-balance, Zecora maneuvered herself on top of her, pinning the farmers left foreleg behind her back.
"Ahh! Get off mah back, Zecora!" Applejack yelled out, cringing from the pain in her foreleg.
"Have you gone and went crazy!?Why is your vision now blinded and hazy?" Zecora grunted as she held her weight down on the leg.
Applejack felt another shot of pain as her leg bent up a little higher. "Ahh! Stop! Alright, ah’m done!" She immediately stopped struggling to keep Zecora from bending her leg anymore.
Seeing the former pony stop resisting, Zecora rolled off her, laying herself on the ground. Applejack didn't move; her leg and pride hurt from the zebra next to her. Both of them lay quiet for several minutes until Zecora broke the silence. "Tell me now, what was that? You attacked me like a wild cat."
Applejack rubbed her sore leg and glared at the zebra. "Ya know darn well why ah did! Ah am stuck as a zebra forever thanks to ya!"
Zecora eyes went wide at Applejack’s outburst, then suddenly closed as she face hooved herself. "Ugh, what is with you pony folk? Can't you ever take a joke?"
Applejack's face went blank. "Wait, what?"
"If you waited for me to finish my line, you would find out that you will be fine."
"Wait, ya... Ya can change this crazy magic back?"
Zecora grunted as she rolled herself up. "Of course I can change you back. You should try to find out before you attack." She gave a small wince of pain as she stood up, still glaring at AJ. "I thought it would be nice to have a laugh, but instead I felt your wrath."
Applejack's anger had completely vanished. She couldn't believe that Zecora had been able to fix her and was joking with her the whole time. She now felt bad for overreacting. She didn't just get mad at Zecora; she had physically attacked her.
Zecora turned her gaze back over to the bags she had by the door she had left there before Applejack attacked her. She grabbed the one she had just brought back and chucked it at the striped farmer on the ground.
"Oww!" AJ shouted when the bag connected to the side of her head. She glared up to Zecora. "What was that for?"
"This is your bag for the long trip. You should thank your granny for making it all in a tight fit."
Applejack didn't know what that meant until she opened the bag; the contents were so tightly packed together that it was hard to move anything inside. What she could make out was multiple small blankets, some food, and water containers. "Wait, ya went to mah house and talked to Granny Smith?"
"Do not worry, I did not tell them what happened to you. I simply told them we would be back in a week or two."
Applejack looked back down to the ground. "Thank ya, Zecora."
"You should be grateful, you crazy one. If this favor was for you, I would certainly be done." Zecora glared at AJ as she reattached her cloak and grabbed her bag. "You are lucky I am not leaving you in the gloom. I am doing this journey for young Applebloom."
Applejack frowned, but knew she could have just said “no” to helping anymore. And to be honest, she wouldn't blame her. She was lucky that Zecora truly did care for Applebloom. Getting up from the ground, she walked over to her hat and slipped it on top of her head, which surprisingly fit perfect over the mohawk she sported. She then grabbed the small bag and slipped it over her back.
Zecora opened the door to the hut and walked out. Once outside, she looked back to Applejack with a stern stare. "Now that our problem is now behind, let us go and look for what we must find."
Applejack complied as she came through the door seconds later. She tried to keep her eyes from making contact with Zecora as she passed by her. The tension between them could easily be felt despite the silence they had at the moment. After Zecora locked the door, she turned and began to walk down the path through the forest, the path going away from Ponyville.
Applejack felt a little unsure about going on the journey now; the only time she had left her home without friends or family was going to other family or Canterlot. She was going to an area where ponies never go. Yet, despite her fears, she knew she had to go. She would make sure she made it to their goal so she could save Applebloom.
Through the dark trees, the two zebras walked onto their destination.
The forest canopy above the ground blocked out most of the sun from the dirt trail. Strange sounds echoed through the still air, causing a chilling feeling to come over one of the two traveling zebras, making her stop in her tracks.
Applejack felt so afraid having to travel through the Everfree forest. Even the small trek to Zecora's hut always made her nervous. The furthest she had ever travelled through it was to the abandoned castle during the return of Nightmare Moon, but she had all of her friends with her that time. All she had as company this trip was Zecora, which hadn't been the most fun so far.
Neither one of them had said a word to each other in the whole two hours they had been walking together. Zecora walked in front quietly, not looking back to her traveling partner to see how she was doing. They both continued on through the shadowy maze.
Applejack shot quick glances back and forth through the trees on her sides, always looking for something to come at her. Every small rustle in bushes or the chirp of a bird made her hair stand up on end. She looked up to Zecora, who didn't even seem affected in the least by the darkness. The cloaked zebra walked casually along as if she was strolling through a a park on a sunny day.
Zecora looked back for the first time in twenty minutes to see how the far was doing. She was surprised to see her moving at an almost crawling speed on he path, constantly looking around. She gave a flustered sigh at her companion, "if you are afraid to come through this place, you should head back since you are slowing my pace."
Applejack shot a glare at Zecora, "Ah... Ah ain't scared of this place!"
Zecora rolled her eyes, "Unless my eyes are wrong at what they see, but your fear is shown by the shakes in your knee."
Applejack looked down to see her legs shaking as she walked. Frustrated, she locked her legs straight and looked back to Zecora, "look, ah said that ah am fi- Ahh!"
A sudden crow flying by made Applejack jump. She dropped back to the ground, covering her head with her hooves. She looked around frantically, but stopped herself when she realized what she was doing. She looked back to Zecora, who was staring at her, a small grin growing across her face.
A small blush of embarrassment spread across Applejack's cheeks, " Alright, maybe ah'm just a little scared."
For the first time on walked, Zecora did not feel any negative feelings; her thoughts were focusing on the humor she got out of the scared zebra pony following her. She couldn't hold back the laughter that built up inside of her.
Applejacks cheeks grew redder after hearing the laughing, "what's so funny?"
"Oh Applejack, you certainly look silly. You are more frightened than a tiny filly."
"Hey, that's not funny! Y'all know what is in these here woods? Ah don't wanna et eaten by some big ol manticore!"
"a manticore is the least for you to worry. Unless you want to sleep in the woods, you had better hurry." Zecora's tone suddenly became more serious after that.
"Of course ah don't wanna spend the night in the darn forest! It's just..." She frowned at the ground below her, "how an ah supposed to help mah sister I ah am too afraid to even walk through a forest? Every pony knows what ah can do, but what would they think if they knew ah couldn't do this?"
Zecora trotted back towards her and knelt by her side, "you are honest and very strong, but being afraid does not make you wrong. You should never worry what others say, for only you can change your way."
Applejack gave a grunt as she stood up, "Easy fer you to say; y'all walk down this path like nothin's happenin."
Zecora smiled and began to walk on down the path. Applejack followed en suite, this time staying right by her side. Being able to walk right next to Zecora made her feel a lot calmer as they walked.
"I never used to be brave. It took time and practice before my nerves would behave." Zecora said after a moment of silence.
"but how do ya just get rid of the fear inside of ya?"
"Applejack, you can never get rid of the power of fright. Your choices to face it is run or fight."
Applejack shot a look of surprise to the statement, "wait... So right now y'all afraid to be in the woods?"
"I always feel the tug of fear. I choose to not be its victim, my dear. If terror comes and you choose to hide, that dark feeling will remain inside."
Applejack went silent after hearing that; she thought back to all the different times in her life When she got scared of something and was too afraid to finish it.
Applejack then thought of her cousin Braeburn, who always had the guts to face anything that came his way. If anyone was to join her in helping Zecora, she would have chosen him. Then again, she would not know what he would do If he saw her as a zebra, 'ugh, ah bet he would freak if he saw me; although, he is kinda thick headed, probly wouldn't even recognize me' she thought to herself. She was happy they weren't heading towards Appleloosa.
After about ten more minutes of walking, Applejack looked over to her companion, "Hey Zecora, how much further is it till we get out of this forest?"
"No need to worry about time, young one. In any coming minute we should be done."
Before applejack could yell out in delight, a parting in the trees in front revealed the edge to the Everfree forest. The two zebras walked through the last of the trunks by their sides, coming up to a sight which made applejack's jaw drop.
Set in front of her was a span of rolling grass hills and plains far as her eyes could see. The green ground slowly rippled in patterns by the breeze, giving it the illusion of it dancing with the wind. It was The best thing she had seen all day. She walked out of the tree line and smiled as the air blew through her coat. Zecora followed her out, and also sat for a moment to appreciate the view.
"wow, this is beautiful, Zecora."
Zecora smiled as well, "yes, it is a beautiful sight..." she stopped and looked up to the sky, "oh, and it seems our timing was just right."
Applejack lifted her head up and noticed what Zecora had meant. The sun was beginning to set, starting to turn the sky a slight orange tint as it slowly fell to the ground. Seeing how close they were to being in the forest at night gave her a rush of happiness that she didn't have to spend the night in there. "phew, ah'm sure lucky we are out of there."
Suddenly, several shadows passed overhead, followed by a large body landing on the ground in front of the zebras. Applejack and Zecora jumped back from suprise at the creature in front of them. After a second, they realized it was a griffon that blocked their path. Moments later, two more griffons landed on the ground behind them, getting between them and the trees.
Applejack felt a chill run up her back as she turned back to the griffon to her front. The large male gave an evil smirk through his beak as he walked towards them, "I would say your luck just ran out."
Applejack and Zecora came together as the three griffons began to slowly walk towards them. The lead griffin to their front chuckled as he came closer, "Well, I have to say, I didn't expect to come across two lonely zebras coming out of the forest."
The leader stood over five feet tall, the normally white feathers of his head stained a dirty gray. The giant yellow beak stuck menacingly out of his face. Many scars littered his body through the patches of feathers missing across his entire body.
Applejack felt her heart racing as the large creatures all chuckled. She had only come across one griffon in her life; Rainbow Dashes ex friend Gilda. When that griffon came to Ponyville, she was just a jerk to every pony she had met, but she never caused harm to any pony. These griffons seemed much colder.
Zecora couldn't believe it; what would be the chances that the moment they came out of the forest, there would be a pack of griffons at that very spot? She knew this was going to be a problem.
"Hey boss, how much you think we can get off these two?" one of the griffons in the back asked.
Zecora looks back and forth between the creatures, glaring at them, "if your looking for wealth, we do not have one bit. Now let us pass, before you make me cause a fit."
The lead griffon started laughing at the threat from the zebra, then giving a scared look "Oh my, please don't hurt us! Hahaha!" he then started slapping the ground with his talons, "you got some nerve to threaten us. Besides the lose jewels hanging off your head, I bet you two could fetch us a good price for the traders."
Applejacks eyes went wide hearing that, 'they are slave merchants?' she thought to herself. Her mind then began picturing herself chained, forced into the front of a large crowd as ponies and other creatures placed bids on her. The horrible thoughts caused her to tremble.
Zecora saw the fear in Applejack, the former pony’seyes wide in fright. She got closer to her, giving her comfort, “Do not worry my good friend. I will protect you until the end.”
The two subordinate griffons began to laugh together as they slowly closed in on their two targets, but were called off by their leader, “Hold up, you two. Don’t forget that these zebra freaks use that strange magic. Be Careful around them.”
Zecora cast a grin towards the leader, “I see that the wise one of the group is you. The three birds in this field are biting more than they can chew.”
Applejack shot her eyes over to her companion, dumbfounded at what was happening, “Zecora, what are ya doin?”
The lead griffon glared at Zecora, “what did you say?”
Slipping off her satchel, Zecora opened it up and pulled out a small glass jar with a glowing green tint. Twisting off the lid, she smiled up to the griffon, “If you wish to leave without harm creatures, move out of our way or ill will break your features.”
All of the griffons were hissing in anger from the taunts being sent their ways. The leader snarled as the zebra simply smirked in his direction. He now wanted to go and rip that smile off her face, but his eyes went to the jar in the grasp of the striped creature. He didn’t want to take the risk of being affected by whatever was inside of it. He didn’t, however, deal with any animal insulting him.
Applejack was confused at why Zecora was insulting the creatures that were threatening to take them captive. If they were captured, she and Zecora would most likely be beaten for trifling with them. However, she also knew these griffons were planning on taking them no matter what they did, so perhaps fighting them off was the only option.
The griffon leader sneered, not wanting to get to close, “You had better watch your mouth you voodoo freak!”
“You act all tough, you giant bird…” Zecora snapped, “yet you are no more than a giant tird!”
That was the last straw for the griffon’s patience. He couldn’t hold back the built up anger inside of his chest. Flapping its large eagle wings, it leaped off the ground, charging straight forward. Ripped blades of grass floated through the air as the winged beast flew right at the zebras.
Zecora also rushed at the griffon, hooves churning up dirt as she ran. jumping into the air, she collided with the animal, causing it to spin in the sky. The sharp beak tried to snap forward and tak a bite at her face, but not before tossed a large amount of the strange powder straight into the eyes of her opponent. The griffon screamed in pain as he felt his eyes burn, then his vision go black. Both zebra and griffon fell to the ground in a hard crash.
Applejack was about to run over to help her friend, but stopped when she heard the screeches coming at her from the trees behind. She turned to see the other two griffons flying through the air directly past her, there claws extended out. Applejack saw that they were going to aid their master.Seeing that she was alone, Applejack had the initial reaction to run away as fast as she could, but she knew Zecora would have no chance against three griffons. And without Zecora, she would never be able to find the cure for her sister.
Shaking off her fear, Applejack charged after the flying menaces. Catching up to one of them, she jumped into the air, latching onto the lion tail with her mouth. The griffon yelled out of pain as it felt the teeth dig into its flesh. As soon as her hooves touched the ground, Applejack yanked backward, pulling her opponent out of the air. The younger griffon felt himself slammed into the dirt. Quickly getting up, he glared at the hat wearing Zebra that ripped him from flight.
"Come on, ya big stupid pigeon!" applejack shouted out as she prepared for the charging animal.
A hundred feet away, Zecora reached under her cloak and pulled out a small piece of metal. Slipping it between her teeth, she bit down on a small button, causing the metal to expand into a long staff. She lowered herself, bracing herself as the blinded leader and his subordinate came at her.
The leaders eyes were covered in a gray haze, tears pouring down his feathery cheeks from the pain. Despite not being able to see, the griffon could still sense the zebra with his strong sense of smell and hearing. He hissed in anger as he stood up on his hind legs, "I will rip those stripes off that body of yours!"
Lunging forward, the blind creature flailed its taloned front legs in the general direction of the smell he was following. Zecora simply ducked and dipped under the clawed arms, and swinging her staff to hit away the close swipes. She ran forward and rammed into the stomach of the griffon, knocking the wind out of it. She then jumped into the air and swung the staff as hard as she could, connecting to the griffons head.
Before the leaders head even hit the ground, the other griffon had come up from behind and latched it's claws on Zecora's back. Screaming in pain, she bucked backwards, landing a hit in the beasts chest. Scrambling out of the clawed grip, she winced from the sting sensation in her back, but couldn't sit long as the griffon came at her again.
applejack was fairing well, since she only had one opponent and it was the smallest of the three. She tilted her hat, now smirking at the weakened griffon. She had been able to land several good kicks to it, making it stumble as it walked.
She couldn't help but throw out a dig to get to the griffon, "so, ya ready to quit, or are ya hungry for another hoof sandwich?"
The griffon roared in anger as it jumped at applejack. It landed just feet from her, trying to reach forward and grab her. Dropping down under the talons, Applejack spun around and kicked her back legs upward, la ding square on the bottom of the creatures beak. Feeling its head go blank, the griffon fell to the ground.
Applekack chuckled in amusement to her victory, "ah warned ya, fella. Now why don't y'all lay there and-"
Applejack flipped around to the sudden scream. Her face became locked in horror as she watched Zecora being thrown across the field, followed quickly by the final griffon. "Zecora!" applejack yelled as she sprinted to help her friend.
The griffon landed directly on top of the wounded zebra, pinning her down with a clawed arm holding her by the throat. She tried to pry the talons of with her hooves, gasping for air as the grip became tighter. The griffon lowered his bruised face to hers, eyes burning with fury, "I don't care what my boss says, your not worth the money!" he screamed as he raised his other arm to swipe at her face.
Within a split second, Zecora's tail flicked upward, sending up a purple cloud of smoke, enveloping herself. Instantaneously, she disapeared, both visually and physically. The griffon's eyes went wide in shock as he felt himself grabbing air. He toppled around, trying to locate the zebra. Suddenly, a shattered bottle to the back of his head made everything go black.
Applejack froze mid step after seeing what had happened; Zecora had somehow teleported, ended up behind the griffon, and cracked an empty jar over its head. She had no idea the sorceress had powers like that.
Zecora slowly trotted away from the unconscious bird, stepping with a small limp in her step. Applejack ran over to keep her from falling over. Zecora have a small chuckle, "well, this has been a crazy fray, and it happened on our first day."
Applejack, tried to smile, but couldn't keep her eyes off the long slashes going down Zecora's. back. Knowing they would have to be cleaned, she helped Zecora gather their belongings. After they were done, they turned and walked away from the trio of knocked out criminals.
The two zebras walked through the grass, once again heading towards the setting sun.
The two zebras continued to trot through the tall grass in the fading light. Applejack no longer had to help Zecora walk anymore, since the pain in her leg had began to subside after time. She did, however, try to keep her weight off it as she walked.
Neither of the two had spoken much since they had evaded capture from the griffons an hour before. Coming so close to becoming prisoners had given both of them a chilling feeling. For Applejack, she was scared for what she thought could have happened. Zecora was scared because she knew what would have happened.
Zecora had seen many of her friends captured and put into the slave market in the past. Some ended up being bought by diamond dogs, forcing them to work the many mines they controlled. Her one good friend was sold to ponies, who had much darker intentions planned for her.
Shaking her head clear from the past, Zecora glanced up, seeing the sun had completely set, giving room for the moon, "Perhaps it is time we stopped to rest. Getting a long sleep would best."
Applejack noticed how dark it was as well, "that's a good idea. Ah'm tuckered out."
After a few moments, both of them heard a small stream running through the field. Seeing it as a good place to stop, they both dropped their bags onto the damp grass. Applejack opened up her bag and pulled out a large blanket, spreading it across the ground. "Come on, Zecora. Why don't ya lay down."
Zecora didn't hesitate to take the offer. She immediately walked over and dropped to the soft cloth beneath her. Stretching out her legs, she smiled up to the mare above her, "Thank you, my dear friend. Your kindness has no end."
"Ah'm just doin' what's right. Y'all had it pretty tuff back there." she looked back to the scratches down Zecora's back. Since they wanted to get as far away from the griffons as possible, they never stopped to treat the wounds, "Let me get those fixed up."
Grabbing several rags from her own satchel, Applejack trotted over to the small stream. The slow moving water glistened in the moonlight, giving off a beautiful light blue glow. After dipping the rags into the cool water, she flipped them onto her back and prepared to head back to the temporary camp, until her reflection caught her eye.
Applejack lifted off her hat and set it on the ground next to her. Leaning in closer, she took the time to really look at herself. When in Zecora's hut, the sheer shock of what happened didn't allow her to really inspect her new look. She now noticed how she had many of the features of a zebra, including the narrow mohawk on the top of her head, the black and white coloring across her face and the tribal markings for her cutie mark.
Looking over herself, she had to agree with Zecora how here green eyes did blend well with the coloring. Applejack couldn't help but give a small chuckle, "Ah guess ah do look good as a zebra."
After admiring herself for a moment, she slipped her hat back on and carried the damp rags back to the blanket. She saw Zecora had put together a small fire with a bundle of branches from a nearby shrub. Zecora turned and smiled up at the returning figure, "Ah, there you are Applejack. I prepared a fire for when you got back."
Applejack gave a smile in return, "Thanks. Here, ah brought some rags for ya." Slipping the rags off her back, she grabbed one with her hoof and began to wipe the dried blood off of Zecora's back, who winced as the rag rubbed over a tender spot. AJ pulled back after seeing the reaction, "Ah'm sorry. Ah will try to be more careful."
"No need to worry, it is quite alright. I can handle much more than I received from that fight."
Applejack smiled, and continued to wash her injured companion. Her eyes then shifted over to Zecora's bag, catching a glimpse of one of her jars of powder. Her mind then jumped back to when se saw Zecora toss that strange stuff into the griffons eyes, and how she had managed to teleport.
Her curiosity finally took the best of her, prompting her to ask, "Hey Zecora, how did ya do that earlier? Y'all were on the ground, ya just appeared behind the griffon."
Zecora turned her head to look up into Applejacks face, "What you saw was a mixture of a strong degree. It comes from sorcery and roots from a rare tree." reaching over to her bag, she pulled out a small wrapping, empty of its contents, "I had hoped not to use it so fast, but in a rush I acted and used it in a cast. It mimics the way you friend twilight can jump with a flash, allowing me to move in a dash."
Applejack stared curiously at her; she was shocked how zebras could preform feats that unicorns were possible of.
Zecora put the wrap back inside of her bag, "If you are curious on my tricks, let me know. Don't ask me to demonstrate them with a show."
Applejack gave a small chuckle at Zecora's sarcasm. She continued to listen to the sorceress explain as she grabbed another clean rag.
Zecora went on with her lecture on sorcery, "Zebras use items that cause tricks to the target. We have potions and mixtures not found on the market." she then pointed to the jar which she used on the griffon's eyes, "that mix there causes blindness to the eye, one which is useful to ones that won't comply. The affects are not one to stay, for sight will return after a day."
Applejack glanced down at her own body, "What about what ya did ta me? How did ya do that?"
Zecora chuckled, seeing how concerned Applejack was about her current look, "That is one of my personal tricks on you, for it causes physical change to whatever it sticks to. To give you the form of the animal desired , hair from the species you want is required."
"So, ya used yer own hair in that bowl to make me look like a zebra? So if I had put mah hair in there and thrown it on ya, y'all would turn into a pony?"
"yes, I would have become one like you. I have to admit, I'd probably be an ugly one, too."
Both of them started laughing after that statement. After a few more minutes, the wounds on Zecora's back had been covered up in several bandages. Applejack stood up and walked to her bag and pulled out her personal sleeping bag, rolling it out on the grass, "Well, ah guess we had better get some shut eye."
"Yes, we should get some rest. Today was only the first part of the quest." Zecora said. She knew they still had quite a way to go before they reached her homeland.
Both zebras laid there heads down onto the ground, closing their tired eyes as their minds began pondering what to expect on the next day of their trip
The morning sun casted a warm glow over the slightly chilled ground, causing a misty glow from the evaporating dew. The small campsite by the river had been cleared out before the sun even rose over the horizon, leaving a patch of flattened grass in its place.
Applejack and Zecora had chosen to get an early start to the day, since they had been slowed down by the distraction the previous evening. Both of them trotted at a steady pace through the grass, which had started to become more spotted by large rocks across the ground. Both of them had decided to wear their cloaks to block the incoming sun rays, and to hide their highly visible stripes.
Applejack looked over to Zecora, seeing how she didn't seem bothered by the wounds on her back. Still, she felt concerened for her well being, "How are ya feeling Zecora? Those scratches bothering ya?"
Zecora lifted her eyebrow to Applejack, then glanced to her covered flank. After a moment, she grinned up to the former pony, "The wounds on my back? Of course not, Miss Jack. Those pesky birds may have been ruff, but I showed them that I am tuff."
Applejack chuckled at the sorceress, "Ah think that bird would have hung ya up if y'all didn't do that little trick in the end."
Zecora rolled her eyes at the little dig, "I had two to fight while you had one. I was still fighting while you were done. I think my trick was needed to make it fair, since you beat yours without a care."
"Haha. Aw, ah'm just messin with ya, Zecora." Applejack bumped Zecora a friendly shove with her hoof, causing her friend to stumble over. After a second, both chuckled and continued to trot. Applejack then had a thought on her mind that was bothering her for a while, "Zecora, can ah ask ya something?"
Zecora looked over at the sudden mood change, "What is it, my friend?"
"Well, since we are going to yer land, should ah be practicing mah rhymin'?
Zecora stopped her trot hearing that question, "By what do you mean by that? I think your head is hot from that hat."
"What? No! Ah don't wanna go to that land and not talk like y'all." glancing over, she saw her companions face had not changed, "Don't of ya zebras talk with rhymes?"
Zecora's lips began to pull back into a large grin. Then, a loud laugh came up from her stomach, causing her stumble over. Applejack had no idea what was so funny, "Did ah say something wrong?"
Zecora wiped the tear away from her eye, then went back to trotting alongside her companion, "Applejack my dear, talking is nothing you should fear. While I have a rhyme to my voice, it is something I do by choice."
"Zebras do not always talk with rhyme?"
"most talk with the same tone from your land . I have learned from the ways of not being bland. By talking in a flow making words blend, it gives me a feeling of making my meaning extend."
"Rhyme by choice? Well, ah don't understand that."
"You talk with an accent different from mine. Whatever tone you choose for yourself is personally devine."
Your accent itself is unique, yet you never think about your tone with critique. You see your voice as part of your soul, and that will always live long and make yourself whole."
Applejack couldn't help but grin at herself after hearing that speech from Zecora. In all of her years of living, she never thought about her country accent than more than just a simple twang to her speech. She now realized that her way of speaking represented who she was at heart. She wasn't just a farming pony; she was an Apple, and nothing was going to change that.
After thirty minutes of walking, Zecora looked around, recognizing the boulders as they passed, "Our pace is moving quite fast. I can tell by the boulders that we passed."
Applejack looked over to her traveling partner, "By the boulders?"
"The rocks in the field are a symbol in the field. They show a point for many to yield."
"Wait... Yield? Is it dangerous?" Applejack suddenly became cautious on where they were going.
Zecora looked over to AJ, giving an emotionless look to the farmer, "The coming path is a dangerous way. When you walk on this road, do not let your mind stray. If you slip on this road and fall to the ground, you will not be able to come around."
Applejacks eyes went wide hearing the danger from Zecora, "What in the hay are we walkin' there for!? Ah ain't goin through a place where ah'm probably gonna die! Why didn't ya tell me earlier!?"
"This is the only way to my land. Either this or the long walk through the sand."
"The great desert on the border to the west. To cross it alive is an impossible test. The way to my land it would take five days, and we would not be able to survive the bright rays. I tried to cross it once in the past, but one day in the heat was all I could last."
Applejack walked in a trance now, listening to her other option that she had. She could not believe how Zecora had been able to do this journey multiple times before alone after hearing how dangerous this pathway was. Deep down, she was feeling a new respect growing to how brave this Zebra was for ever even attempting this journey in her younger years in life.
Zecora stopped in her tracks as the grassland came to a sudden end. The ground was now a single hard stone bedding, devoid of any soil. The road ahead of them went right to the edge of a cliff. She knew exactly where she was now. Looking back to Applejack, she sternly looked her in the eye, "Be prepared my dear for the next spot. You must focus with all that you got."
Applejack felt the sweat beading down the side of her head, afraid to even walk forward to see what it was Zecora was looking down to. Inside of her heart, however, she knew that she couldn't quit now. Despite her trembling legs, she walked forward next to Zecora, who was staring down into the enormous canyon at their feet.
Zecora never looked to Applejack as she spoke, "This is what we must get by. The valley you see is the Dragon's Eye."
"Th-The Dragon's eye?" the words were nearly impossible for Applejack to say as she looked down into the gulley that was there next obstacle.
The valley in front of her was two miles across, and the bottom was at least a thousand feet below her. The sheer size of the valley could have fit all of Canterlot inside, and the top of the royal palace would not have reached the top of the cliffside. It was one of the largest things she had ever seen.
What bothered Applejack most though was not its size, but it's appearance; the entire valley was devoid of any form of plant life, it's plain brown surface gleaming in the sun. Littering the bottom of the wide basin were large boulders and Jagged rocks scattered throughout. The seemingly wasteland was the last place the farmer wanted to go into.
Applejack took her gaze off the valley and looked over to Zecora, who had started to walk towards a small path leading down the side, "Zecora, do we really have to go through there?"
Zecora turned to look back to the worried farmer, "Yes we do, Applejack. This is the next part of our track. If we hurry and make our way, we can be out of here by mid day."
"Wait..." Applejack called out, "Before we go, why Is this place called that?"
"The valley is home to a small species of drake. They fly through it and burn in their wake. If you noticed that there are no plants through here, it it because those beasts have burned it all my dear."
Applejack felt her heart racing at hearing there really were dragons through here, "How am ah supposed to stay calm when there are darn dragons flying through here!?"
"You must control the fear that runs in your heart, for if you don't it will pull you apart."
"But, if there are dragons-"
"If you look down below, do you see any around? The skies are clear and they are not abound. We have to hurry before they do come by, for I do not want to be seen by a drakes eye."
"Al-alright." Applejack gulped as she began to follow Zecora down the narrow path that slowly descended down the face of the cliff. 'Alright AJ...' she thought to herself, 'Ya have to do this for Applebloom.'
Walking along, Applejack could see why the path alone was so dangerous to travel; while some parts of the winding trail was decent width, some parts were only a few feet wide, causing her to lean against the wall to her side. The surface of the ground was a flat sandstone, which under unsteady hooves will cause the walker to slip.
Going down, both of the travellers took their times with their steps as they descended. Several times as she put her hoof down, Applejack would feel the sand beneath her slide out, causing a quick stumble. Quickly recovering, she would lay back against the rock for a moment to calm her breathing before continuing.
Zecora slowly continued down the path, constantly glancing out to the horizon for any kind of movement in the sky. Every time she heard something, her tail immediately whipped for her bag, preparing for whatever might come. She turned back, seeing Applejack right behind her, "You are doing quite well. You put your mind to the task I can tell."
Applejack cracked a small grin at the compliment, "He, Ah'm not gonna let this stop me."
"That is good to hear. Come now, we are almost halfway my dear." smiling, Zecora turned and continued down.
After several more minutes, they were about two hundred feet up from the bottom. Seeing they were close gave Applejack a wave of relief over herself. That wave quickly dwindled away though, after she saw the next obstacle, "Oh my...".
For the next forty feet of the path, the trail seemed like it was impassable. Most of it was only twenty inches across, narrower than anything they had walked yet. Jagged cracks ran through the stone and down the edge of the cliff, making it appear like it would crumble at the slightest of pressure.
Zecora began to slowly approach it, but felt her cloak tugged back. She looked around to see a terrified zebra looking at her. Applejack released the cloth so to speak, "Zecora, ah don't think ah can do that."
Zecora tried to give a reassuring smile to calm her friend, "I know it is risky and frightening, but by sitting our time is tightening. Listen well and hear with intent, trust in me and trouble we will prevent."
"But what if ah fall?"
"That will not happen my friend. And if something happens, I'll help you until the end." after that, Zecora slowly began to walk across the narrow ledge, having to rub her right side tight against the face of the cliff to be able to get room for her hooves to rest on the skinny way. Very hesitantly, she moved one hoof in front of the other, steadily making her way across.
Applejack felt her heart ramming in her chest as she watched Zecora make her way across. She gasped as she saw a small corner of the ledge crumble under a step, "Watch out Zecora!"
"Don't worry, i am fine.." Zecora called out, "... Just wait until i'm over until you walk on this line."
After another minute, she made it to the other side of the pathway. Zecora turned back to Applejack, "Okay, now you can start. Watch your step, for it could fall apart."
Applejack frowned across the gap at her, 'That doesn't help one bit.' she thought to herself. Looking down to the path, she couldn't stop from glancing below to the valley floor, taking in just how far it was below. Beads of sweat dripped down her head and began to soak into the inside trim of her hat. She tilted it up to get air to her hair for a moment, "Alriht, here ah go."
Ever so slightly, she put her hooves down, one after another as she crept her way across. She could feel her side scraping against the rough stone of the cliff, but she didn't dare take any pressure off. She continued to cross, when suddenly a small slab of the edge broke out from under her back hoof.
"Dah!" Applejack nearly lost her balance as her leg fell through with the stone. Quickly catching herself, she wedged her body against the wall, eyes filled with pure fear, "Ah can't do this!" she yelled out.
"Yes you can, move forward and go. Stopping breaks the moving flow." Zecora responded.
"Ah can't! Ah'm gonna fall." she clenched her eyes and pressed her face against the stone.
"Applejack, ignore the cliff and look at me. Make me the only thing that you see."
Applejack slowly opened her eyes, trying to do just what Zecora told her to do. She stared straight at her, trying to ignore everything around her and her trembling body. Slowly, she got up, taking one baby step at a time.
Zecora smiled at her friends progress, "you are doing it well. Keep it up, you are almost here if you couldn't tell."
Applejack glanced down for just a moment and saw she only had ten feet left. She slightly smiled at how she was so close.
"Come on, just a few more.." Zecora said, "You can-"
Her voice was cut off by cracking rocks, and the scream of Applejack as she fell.
Applejack screamed as she felt her body falling through the sudden gap in the trail as she dropped with the broken rocks. Flailing out, her front hooves caught the next part of the ledge at the last second. Her eyes were as wide as dinner plates as she struggled to hold on, "Zecora! Help me!"
"Hold on Applejack!" Zecora screamed out. She went to the edge and was about to run out to help, but stopped; the small ledge that Applejak hung from would surely break under the combined weight of both of them. She couldn't go out there. her friend was only five feet from her, but she was unable to get to her.
Applejack felt her hooves slip on the stone above her head as she hung. Panicking, she tried to put her back legs against the cliff below her to push up, but the wall was too smooth to get a good spot to step on. All she was doing was scraping against the rock, "Zecora, hurry!"
Zecora slipped off her bag and flipped open the opening flap. Shuffling through the contents, she searched for anything she could have used as a rope; she found a mix of her potions, food and jars. She saw the blanket and prepared to pull it out, but knew that it was much too thin and would have torn under the farmers weight. Heart racing, she had nothing to use help. Applejacks bag was the one that carried rope, and it flopped over the blowing cape and-.
Her cape! Zecora knew it wasn't much, but it was stronger than the sheet she had. Moving quick, she untied the one she had around her neck and spun it until it was a thick bundle. "Applejack, listen good and listen well. You must do what I'm about to tell."
Applejack tried to keep her nerves intact, "Alright."
When you grab this, you must let go. You will-"
"HAVE YA LOST YER BUCKIN MIND!?" Applejack screamed out, "Ah am not letting go."
"You must trust in what I'm trying to do. You will swing below and I will pull you to." Zecora tossed the end of the bundled cape over to the hanging zebra, clutching her end with her teeth.
Applejack had all the doubts in her mind to not want to grab the cape, but every moment she hung there, her limbs were losing strength. She was going to fall at any moment, so she only had one option. With struggling effort, she more forward and bit down as hard as she could. Glancing over, she saw Zecora give her a nod of support. Applejack clenched her eyes shut as tears of fear fell down her face.
Giving in all the hope she had to Zecora, she let go of the edge.
Zecora felt the full weight pull against her as Applejack fell. Bracing her legs, she yanked her head back as hard as she could, swinging the hanging zebra down below the rocky outcrop. She felt her hooves slightly slide against the ground, but she held tight and pulled backwards.
Applejack panted through he cloth in her mouth, thanking Celestia she was still alive. She felt the cape being pulled up, so she did what she could to help by putting her hooves against the wall and pushing up with everything she had left in her body. After a minute of tiring tugging and pullling, both of them were laying on top of the large path.
Zecora spit out her end of cloth to gather much needed air, "I'm sorry you had to deal with-"
She was cut short by Applejack, who had thrown herself onto Zecora's chest and bawled into her fur, "Oh Zecora! Ah thought ah was gonna die!" the crying mare wrapped her hooves around her companions fur and pulled her into a tight embrace. Her streams of tears soaked the others fur as she continued to weep.
While at first startled, Zecora lifted off the hat from Applejacks head and set it to the side, giving her space to lay her own chin down over her friends Mohawk. Sliding her own hoof around, she pulled the crying zebra closer to her, "you are very brave and bold. You pushed through fears strong hold."
Applejack slowly calmed her breathing, allowing herself to steadily stop the falling tears from her face. She glanced up with her emerald green eyes and smiled, "Thank ya. Ya saved mah life right there, Zecora."
"There is no reason to thank me, I promised I would protect you, don't you see? If I allowed you to fall into gloom, I could never face young Applebloom."
Applejack chuckled at hearing that, lifting her spirit slightly. Rolling off Zecora, she wiped what remaining liquid was in her eyes away. Walking over to her hat, she turned and looked at the stretched out cape that she was pulled up on. Lifting it up, she gave a sorrowful look to her friend, "Sorry about yer cape Zecora."
Zecora looked over to her messed up outfit, but didn't seem upset by it. All she did was smile at Applejack, "No need to worry about a cape. I can get another when we leave this large gape." she then gestured to the edge.
Applejack looked out and immediately knew what she meant; while the rest of the path was easy travel, they still had the entire valley to cross. She could only hope that they didn't come across any of the local creatures.
It took fifteen minutes for the two to get to the base of the cliff. For Applejack, it was perhaps the best feeling that she had felt all day knowing that she was off of that wretched path. Smiling, she walked on after Zecora to the next challenge in front of them; the valley floor.
The rocky basin stretched far ahead of the two of them, the dark stone glistening in the light. Large boulders were scattered all throughout the valley. Ahead, the other cliff at the end stood towering above the ground, seemingly locking them inside of the hot gorge. Applejack looked over to Zecora with concern, "Ah don't see a path on that side of the cliff. How are we supposed to get out?"
Zecora smiled over to Applejack, "Do not fret my young friend, for the edge of this valley we will find the end. At the base of the cliff we will find a tunnel. and entering it we will leave through that funnel."
"Yes indeed. Now, let's hurry before we become dragons feed."
The farmers eyes went wide; She had completely forgotten of the name that the valley had, "Let's go then!" she started to quickly trot ahead.
Zecora had a little amusement at Applejacks reaction, but she understood what was so bad; she had come through this valley before, and it was always something that have her chills. Moving in quick pace, she caught up to her companion.
Walking away from the base of the cliff, they were now exposed In the open to whatever could be passing by. Constantly watching the skies, they travelled forward with caution. Having to keep watch above and in front while walking was truly a pain.
Continuing on for about half an hour, it seemed as if the cliff in front of them didn't appear any closer to them. The jagged rocks on the ground didn't help their progress either; both of them had to maneuver carefully so that they did not slice their ankles. their pace was only set at a steady trot.
The shape of the valley was another thing that caused a major annoyance for the two. With the crest of the cliffs sloping up, they blocked the wind currents from entering the valley basin. The lack of flowing air caused the temperature to rise into the triple digit range. While the capes that they had normally helped to keep the heat off their body from the sunlight, in this valley they felt like they were in fact trapping the hot air around their bodies.
Zecora could feel the sweat dripping down her body as she walked, soaking the torn cape on her back, Looking over, she saw Applejack sweating as well. The brim of her hat had been stained a darker tone. Her mouth hung open, trying to gasp for air, but that only dried out her throat even more as the dry, stale air sucked out any moisture she had.
As soon as there was a flat area below a large boulder, Zecora turned and walked over to the base of it, kneeling down in the shade, "We should stop and take a break. You do not want to be out in the sun and cook like a cake."
Applejack gave a grin at the joke, "Alright. A little rest does sound mighty fine."
Trotting over to the shade, she plopped onto the ground next to Zecora. While the air itself was still extremely hot, being able to get out of the sun did bring some relief. Taking off her hat and cape, she felt the air shift through her damp fur, giving a strange chill sensation over her despite the heat. 'At least we are makin' progress through this darn place.' Applejack thought to herself.
Zecora reached into her bag and pulled out a bottle of water. Popping off the cap, she quickly took several large gulps. While the water was not cold, it did bring her some refreshment by wetting her throat. She looked over to Applejack, who had her belly on the ground, her hooves stuck out intro of her and eyes closed, "Here, have a drink. Having fluids will allow you to think."
Applejack opened her eyes to see a half bottle of water between Zecora's hooves. Sitting up, she quickly grabbed it and chugged down the remaining water in an instant. She went to the extent of shaking the bottle to get out the very last few drops out of the bottom. After it was completely drained, she tossed the bottle back over to the bag, "Thank ya."
Zecora raised an eyebrow at the bottle, then looked over to the farmer with a grin, "Well, you quickly drained the contents in there. It seems your intention was not to share."
Applejacks face went read with embarrassment; she hadn't thought about asking if Zecora wanted anymore water, "Oh, uh, sorry about that."
"He he, do not fret about the empty container, for I am not one to be a complainer. I have several more for us to share, and I would gladly give them without a care."
Applejack smiled at how generous Zecora was, "Ah'm fine. Thank ya, though."
Looking out, the great cliff side in front of them loomed high above them, it's great face devoid of any form of pathway. Applejack stared in awe at how Zecora even found this path in the first place. With that question bothering her, she decided to break the silence of the moment, "Hey Zecora, ah was wonderin..."
Zecora glanced over to Applejack, "Hmm?"
"Well, how did you come by this way to cross? Did ya just stumble across it?"
"This passage is old and has been known for years. Zebras pass it down to their young ones ears. No zebra knows how long ago this began, but it dates back as far as we can." she stood up and stared down the long valley, "Legend tells of a brave group that travelled down, for they wanted to find and settle a new town. They went through the cave and came into here, and searched until they found the way to get through, my dear."
Applejack gave a face of mixed emotions between amazement and doubt, "Wow, so they just walked on by, found that there cave we're supposed to go through and ended up down here? That's crazy."
Zecora chuckled at Applejacks remark, "That is the story that we have been told to believe. Whether you choose to or not is whatever you conceive."
After another minute, they started gathering their things to start walking under the sun again. Zecora looked at how far they were in between the cliff in front of them and to be one behind them; judging by their positioning, they should be inside of the cave within an hour if they didn't stop walking.
Stepping out from the shade of the boulder, they immediately felt the bright rays beating down on them through the capes on their back. Despite trapping heat around them, Zecora knew that it was better to wear the capes then to allow direct sunlight to have the chance to burn them. Knowing this did not bring much more comfort however to her baking body.
After forty minutes of walking since their break, Applejack felt as if she was going to collapse; her entire body was drenched with her perspiration, dripping down from her cape and dropping on to the ground. She could hear the drips sizzling as soon as they touched the hot ground, disappearing instantaneously.
The ground at least had become a much more bearable at this point in the valley; there were not near as many sharp rocks sticking up everywhere, so the two of them were able to walk at a faster pace without having to watch every step. The ground was also a lighter tan color, which in the sun was still hot, but not near as excruciating as the darker toned stone bedding from earlier in the gulley.
Coming over a small crest of a slope, their eyes now gazed upon the base of the other side of the valley, no more than a half mile away. Applejack let a a deep holler of happiness, "Woo-wee! We're almost there."
"Yes we are indeed. We got across with decent speed." Zecora responded. She was happy as well to be able to get out of the hot valley. Despite coming across it several times, she always hated this part of the journey to and from her land the most.
Suddenly, a loud screech echoed through the canyon. Both zebras froze at hearing the horrifying sound reverberate in the still air. Zecora shot her head to the left towards the direction that the sound came from. In the Sky, she saw several dark shapes quickly approaching their position.
Slowly, she turned to Applejack, eyes filled with panic, "Run."
Running as fast as their legs would allow them, Applejack and Zecora sprinted towards the base of the cliff. They could hear the screeches increase in volume as the creatures began coming closer. Applejacks heart beat faster and faster as she gasped for air, her exhaustion beginning to spread throughout her body.
Running around a large boulder, Applejack saw the cave at the bottom of the cliff in front of them. "Look, we can make it!" she shouted out. All of a sudden, she felt her tail get yanked backwards, "Ow! what in the hay?" Zecora dragged Applejack backwards, pulling her under a large arched rock, "Zecora, what are ya doin?"
Spitting out the tail, Zecora brought a hoof to the farmers mouth, "Shh. We Won't make it before they see us. We have to wait and don't make a fuss."
Applejack pushed the hoof away and looked ahead to the cliff. The cave was only eight hundred feet from where they were, "We can make it if we run.we-"
"No, these dragons are fast and as quick as can be. They would have no trouble catching you and me."
Peeking their heads out, they watched as the four dark dragons fly over them, steadily gliding through the air. Each one was about seven feet tall, much smaller than the average dragon. Their bodies were covered in black scales that made their silver wings stand out in the bright sky. Their slender necks swept back and forth to allow their slender heads a look to anything that they could burn.
Applejack's eyes went back to the cave ahead of her. She frowned seeing that they were so close but had to sit below a rock. 'Ah shouldn't be waitin here. We should just run.' she thought to herself. Suddenly, she felt a strange tingle on the back of her right leg, as if something was moving across her fur. After it stopped for a second, she thought it was just her mind playing trick on her, but then it started up again. "What is that?"
Flipping her head around, her emerald eyes widened when she saw a small brown scorpion crawling up her leg. Her heart beat faster and faster as she stared into the crimson red eyes of the crawling creature. Applejack could not control her nerves as her leg began to tremble. Feeling movement below it's eight pointed limbs, the scorpion locked itself into defensive position, it's thin tail lifting up above its body.
Zecora didnt know what was wrong with Applejack and her shaking, but realized the problem when she saw the scorpion as well, "Do not move a single inch. The stinger is much worse than its pinch."
Applejack continued to shake as the scorpion continued to crawl across her fur, "Zecora, get it off!" Her voice was filled with terror as she looked back to the creature on her.
Zecora just shook her head, "I should not try and strike it, for it will surely cause a fit. In defense it will strike true, and it may in fact make contact with you."
"Just do it!" Applejack was nearly screaming at this point.
Zecora wanted to say no, but the look on Applejacks face took away the urge to say it. Scooting over closer, she positioned herself by Applejacks side, getting as close as she could under their tight squeeze beneath the rock, she whipped her tail towards the scorpion in an attempt to knock it off. She connected with the side of of the small critter, but it's legs clamped down into Applejacks skin holding tight.
Wincing from the quick pain, Applejack whimpered in fear of what she was afraid would come next. "Get it off!"
Whipping her tail back again, Zecora swung forward as hard as she could, knocking the scorpion off, but not before it's tail shot out and stuck into Applejack's ankle.
Applejack screamed out, more out of shock than pain, then quickly covered her mouth with her hooves. Zecora kicked her back hoof out and crushed the scorpion against the rock behind them. Applejack pulled her head back to look at her leg, her mind racing when she saw the small welt growing in the spot she was hit. Then, her mind was taken off that when a loud screech cut through the air, followed by a sudden thud of something landing on the ground not far from their hiding spot. Zecora and Applejack stopped breathing when they heard the foot steps across the stone coming from behind the rock they were under.
Zecora quietly opened her satchel and pulled out her green powder again, unscrewing the lid as slow as she could to not cause any form of sound. She leaned over to Applejack and whispered into her ear, "When I say to go, run with all you got. Once safe inside the cave you may stop." she poured a small pile onto the top of her hoof.
The sound of claws dragging across the stone above them rang through their ears, causing them to clench their eyes shut. Once it stopped, they opened up to see a clawed foot in front of them, followed by another and a whip like tail. Out of view, they could hear the loud sniffing of the dragon as it inhaled deeply, absorbing the many air particles to find the source of the sound it had heard. After registering the scents it received, the small drake turned and snarled at the rock it stood by.
Zecora clutched the jar with her hooves as she watched the legs in front of her begin to shift down towards the stone floor, "Be ready." she whispered.
The dragon stuck its head into the crevice below it and hissed at the two zebras, but it shot backwards when it felt the sudden burning pain from the green powder that was thrown in it's face. Stumbling to the ground, it's claws went to its face and clutched around its bulging eyes.
"Run!" Zecora screamed out as she shot from the rock and back into the open.
Applejack quickly crawled out and ran after her friend. As she sprinted, she could have sworn she felt a strange numbness inside of her right leg, causing her to slightly stumble. The sudden screech of three other dragon's coming down and the adrenaline pulsing through her body kept her from falling to the ground, however. Pushing herself through the odd sensation, she ran harder than she ever had before.
the cave was now only a hundred feet in front of them, it's dark interior Acting as a beacon of hope for the two running zebras. Their hooves clattered across the rocks as they pushed harder and harder through the scorching air. Their lungs burnt from exhaustion as they ran from the loud hisses behind them.
Zecora turned her head back to see one of the dragons launching a small fire ball towards the ground. "Look out!" she screamed as the fire crashed into the stone in front of them. Quickly weaving around it, they then watched as another blast of fire struck at the entrance of the cave, enveloping the mouth in flames.
"Zecora, what do we do!?" Applejack yelled out.
"Run through the fire into the cave, for this act will be the one to save." Zecora then jumped forward and passed through the flames.
"What the!?" Applejack could not believe that this was happening to her. Despite doubting the idea, she continued straight and leapt. She felt the heat of the fire envelope her, the sheer temperature overtaking every other sense that she had. After a moment, it vanished, and she was in darkness.
Applejack crashed onto the stone ground as the flames behind her lit up the entrance of the cave. Quickly crawling up, she got to her hooves and ran down the dark corridor away from the opening away from the fire. After several seconds, the light had completely vanished from the cave, leaving Applejack stuck inside with nothing to guide herself.
Coming to a stop, she dropped to the rocky bedding beneath her and gasped for breath. Her body felt like it was burning all over, her fur, hat and cape drenched with salty perspiration. The stone below her was actually quite cool, bringing a much needed chill to her underbelly.
After a moment of sitting alone, the darkness around her finally settled into her mind. Her eyes went side to side trying to decipher anything, but her vision was pitch black inside of the cave. Panic began to set into her thoughts as she sat their all alone, "Zecora? Where are ya?"
From in front of her, a light green glow came from around a turn ahead. It was Zecora, carrying a small jar in her mouth that carried an illuminating powder inside of it. Applejack smiled as her friend stopped in front of her, "There ya are. Ah didn't know where ya went."
Zecora lowered her head and set the small jar onto the ground so she could speak, "I am glad you followed swiftly behind. Being stuck outside with dragons would have not been kind." She glanced behind Applejack at the sounds of screeches and hissing. "Do not worry about the beasts, for they will not make us into their feasts. Open space is what those dragons fly, so following us they will not try."
"Ah like the sound of that right there." Applejack chuckled as she began to stand up. When she did however, she winced in pain from her back leg.
Zecora noticed the stumble, causing concern for her friend, "Are you alright? It is from the sting from earlier that caused us fright."
Applejack shook her head and put her leg back down, "Ah'm alright. It's just a little sore."
Zecora was doubtful, but she wouldn't be able to do much inside of the cave in the dark. She knew they had to get out of the cave soon to be able to try to treat the injury. Bending down, she picked up the small lighted jar and turned to walk back down the tunnel from which she came. Applejack tried to ignore the pain in her leg as she followed en suite down the dark corridor.
Ascending upwards in the tunnel, the two of them travelled for about thirty minutes in the dark and dirty passage way. Inside of the mountain side, the cave air was much cooler than the base of the Dragons eye. In fact, it gave a slight chill to Zecora as she walked inside. For her companion, however, chilly was not a feeling she was experiencing.
Applejack felt like her body was on fire as she walked behind. Her mind was in a foggy haze, messing with her thoughts as she tried to walk over the stone beneath her hooves, which were constantly wobbling with every step that she took. The worst part for her was her back leg; the pain in it had become so much that she wasn't able to place any weight on it, making her have to walk on her other three legs to keep going.
Step by step, the farmer tried to continue up the windy tunnel after her guide. Suddenly, she felt her balance go out, causing her to stumble to the side and fall against the wall. Panting, her mind was spinning as she tried to stand back up. 'Come on AJ, y'all can get through this.' she said to herself, forcing her body forward.
After another ten minutes, light came into view in front of Zecora, giving her a feeling of relief that they had come to the end of the dark path that they were on. Slipping the jar into her bag, she forward and exited the stone cave. She squinted her eyes tight as the bright rays assaulted her dark adjusted eyes. After a few seconds, her pupils contracted enough to allow her to open her eyes to look at their next location.
A large field was stretched for miles in front of them, it's brown tone lending lending with the many dirt paths that were scattered throughout it. Inhaling deeply, she gladly accepted the fresh, clean air into her lungs. "It seems we have made it out of here. Now we can continue without fear." she turned back and smiled at Applejack, but when she saw the farmer, her smile disappeared.
Applejack was on the ground outside of the cave spread out across the dirt. Her body was Moving in small spasms every few seconds, the small wave of twitches shaking her. Zecora ran over to her side and saw what was causing the problem; the farmers back right ankle was swollen to twice the size of her other ankles, even turning to a slightly purplish tone that showed through her fur. 'The scorpion strike...' Zecora said to herself, 'I forgot about that in the middle of the hike.'
Pulling a small blanket out from Applejacks bag, she Spread it out across the ground next to her sick companion. Going over to Applejacks side, she rolled her over off the dirt and onto the cloth. Once she got her on, she went to her own bags and searched for anything that she could've made use of. Unfortunately, she did not have anything that could've been used for treating the poison.
Zecora always planned on having to counter many different things on the journey, but scorpion stings were not something that she ever planned on. She only had some things that could help numb the pain to help relieve Applejack. Looking around, she knew she wouldn't be able to find any good ingredients inside of the brown field, she she wouldn't even take the time to go and look for anything.
Grabbing the same glowing powered that she used to light up the cave, Zecora brought it over and opened up the lid to it. Pouring a tiny amount into her hoof, she lowered it down and was about to put it on he ankle when she stopped; the leg had to Have an opening for the powder to get inside. To her side, she grabbed a small rock in her mouth. With the jagged edge of it, she pushed down on the wound and slid it.
Applejack winced from the sudden sharp pain, then relaxed when the pain subsided. To her surprise, the pain in her ankle nearly completely vanished. Forcing her head around, she could make out through her blurry sight the glow coming off her leg. Before she could ask what it was, she fell back down to the blanket.
Knowing there was nothing else she could do but allow Applejack's body to fight off the poison, Zecora pulled out another blanket and layed it over her sick friend. She then took a container of water and soaked one of the rags that they had. Getting it wet, she bent down and wiped it over Applejacks face to keep her cooler. Even through the wet rag, she could feel the heat radiating off the farmers forehead.
"Zecora..." Applejack faintly said, "Why are ya doin this?"
Zecora was a little confused by the question, "Why wouldn't I help you with this. You were stung down in that abyss."
No, *huff* why are ya doin this? Y'all are risking yer life for Applebloom. Why?"
Zecora sat quietly as she took in the question. She didn't know what to say to Applejack to respond to it. When she looked back at the farmer, she saw that she had passed out on the blanket, her chest slowly but constantly rising as the former pony let exhaustion take her.
Shifting in her sleep, Applejack slowly opened her eyes. Her vision was slightly blurred, only able to make out that the light was very faint."Ugh. Mah head." she mumbled to herself. Her head was groggy from that sting she had and from a lack of water after getting through the canyon. Blinking several times, her sight began to come together, giving her a clear picture of her surroundings.
A large down field spreading far as she could see gently swayed in the breeze of the wind. The sky was a light orange from the sun as it sat low on the horizon. Forcing herself up, she lifted her head to get a better view, but Stopped midway from the tightness in her neck. Lifting her hoof up, she rubbed the side of her neck to get out the knot in her muscles. To her discomfort, even led foreleg was sore and tight.
Standing up, she arched her body back to stretch out all of her legs. Afterward, she leaned foreleg so her backless remained stretched out and back bent inward towards the ground. Doing so caused numerous pops to sound out throughout her spine, each one of them giving a wave of release to her. After she was done she stood up straight. To her surprise, she didn't feel any pain in her back ankle anymore. Looking back, she saw that it had shrunk back down to its normal size and was carefully wrapped in bandages.
Hearing the sound of something shuffling caught Applejacks attention. Looking to her right she saw Zecora shoving her materials into her satchel. "Zecora?"
Zecora turned around and saw her friend up, "Ah, I see you have awaken. That event in the valley left you quite shaken."
"Yeah, ah guess it did." Applejack looked down to see Zecora still stuffing the items in, "What are ya doin? Aren't ya gonna get ready fer the night?"
Zecora didn't look up as she spoke, "Time has passed when you were asleep. The sunlight you see is starting to seep."
"The light is rising above the ground. It is the sunrise that is abound." Zecora bluntly stated.
"Sunrise!?" Applejack shouted.
She couldn't believe what she was hearing; she had been passed out from yesterday afternoon all the way to the next morning. "No wonder ah'm so sore!" she said to herself. She looked back to Zecora, and was surprised to see her already packed and ready to leave, "Wow y'all got ready darn quickly."
Zecora didn't respond, but instead turned away and looked out to the grass fields. After a moment of silence, Zecora began to speak, once again not tiring to look at her companion, "Hurry and gather your stuff. Our journey ahead is still rough."
Applejack caught something in the zebras voice, but she couldn't put it with anything. What she could tell was that something was bothering her, "Zecora, y'all all right?"
Zecora turned her head barely an inch, then stopped and went facing forward again, "We should not waste time. Sitting here longer during our journey would be a crime." and with that, she started walking down the slight embankment of the hill, leaving a confused zebra behind her.
For several hours the pair walked through the ever stretching field ahead of them. The bright rays from Celestia's rising sun warmed up the air to a comfortable temperature for the travelers, although it wasn't doing anything to help relieve the tension that was being felt between the two of them.
Applejack followed behind Zecora several steps, since every time she was trotting beside her, Zecora would quickly turn her head away so that their eyes did not meet with each other. The farmer had no idea what was going on, "Did ah do somethin wrong to make her upset?" Applejack said to herself.
After thinking on it for some time, Applejack decided that it was time to find out the reason for the problem. Picking up her pace, she quickly caught up to her striped ally, "Alright Zecora, what's the big idea? Why have y'all been tryin to avoid me all day?"
Zecora slowly turned her face towards the farmer, revealing the single tear dripping down her cheek. Applejacks frustration fell away immediately at the sight of the drip traveling down the black stripe on Zecora's face. "What's wrong Zecora?"
"Applebloom is the reason I am doing this journey." Zecora responded.
Applejack was confused by the answer, "What?"
Zecora took a deep breath before speaking again, "I was alone in the forest and town. No matter how much I tried, I started to feel down. If your sister didn't try and visit me that day, I would still be alone in the forest from ponies away. She cheered me up with her happy mood, giving me more pleasure than the tastiest food."
"She always brought a wide grin to my face, bringing joy to my humble place. She is the reason that I have you as a friend, while tense at first we have made amend. Now that she has fallen sick i must get her out of the gloom. That is why I am helping young Appleboom."
Applejack sat quietly as Zecora finished her speech. She had no idea that Applebloom meant so much to Zecora. "But why are ya crying?"
Zecora hesitated for a moment before speaking again, "It is my fault that you were hurt. My actions caused you to drop to the dirt."
"What?" Applejack shouted, "How in the hay was it yer fault? It was that scorpion that got me-"
It got you because I made us hide under that rock. If I listened to you and ran, you wouldn't have experienced that shock. What if something happened to you and you did not survive? I would never be allowed back in your town wothout you alive." Zecora now had more tears falling down her face at this point.
Applejack stopped walking and reached over and put a hoof over Zecora's neck, pulling her into a hug. Zecora was startled at first, but after a moment let herself melt into the embrace, putting her own hoof around the farmer. Applejack leaned back to look into her friends face, "Zecora, y'all have nothing to be sorry fer. Everything that has happened had nothing to do with ya. And no matter what happens, everything will be fine."
Zecora smiled and wiped away the few drops out of her eyes."Thank you for your kindness. My emotions just caused me blindness."
Applejack chuckled at the response of Zecora, "It would happen to any pony that went through what you did."
Smiling, both of them started off again to their destination, now walking side by side with each other. The awkward tension that had filled their morning together had lifted and dissipated between them, giving room to a much more comfortable feeling.
After another four hours, the fields of grass had disapeared, leaving only dark brown sand in its place. The grains of this sand were much more coarse than the standard white sand, nearly the size of gravel. The pair came over a large slope as they crawled up the collapsing side of the face. When they reached the top, Applejacks jaw dropped, "Oh my...".
Zecora smiled at seeing the reaction of the farmers face. Turning, she looked down to the sight in the distance, "The sight is one to surprise some. That down below is the home that I come from."
The great city in the distance was perhaps the largest town that Applejack had ever seen before. Â Hundreds of tan buildings were spread out across the land. Throughout the mix of all of it were many tall desert palm trees lining the many streams that flowed from a large pond that sat in the very center of it all.
Even from a mile away, it was an immense mass that sprung up out of nowhere. The capital of Canterlot didn't even compare to the sheer mass that loomed in the distance. "What is this place?" Applejack asked.
Zecora walked forward to look at the massive city, "This is the center of the Zebra oasis. It is one that is the sight to travelers faces. A special well leaks to this lake, giving water so that the town does not bake." walking down the hillside, she signaled her companion to follow close behind.
Walking down the loose sand of the hill, the two of them came upon solid ground made up from a mix of light and dark sandstone. Applejack kept her gaze on the large city that began to grow even larger than before as they began to come closer to its proximity. A feeling of curiosity came over her as she thought about how the zebras in this town were compared to how pony's were back in her own home.
Before they came within the final quarter mile from the entrance to the city, Zecora stopped Applejack from continuing any further and looked her straight in the eye, "Now listen closely for what I tell, for you must make a story worthy to sell."
The former pony gave a curious look at Zecora, "Story to sell?"
"You cannot Say where you came from. Knowing you came from Ponyville will cause tension with some. Just say you live in the forest Everfree, and that you have been living as a companion with me."
Applejack was confused at this point now, "But what's so bad 'bout me saying ah live in Ponyville? If ah look like a zebra, why would it matter?"
"Seeing a zebra among pony's is frowned upon. They would push you out and make sure you were gone."
"But... Why do zebras hate pony's so much?"
Zecora didn't say anything as she turned back forward and continued to walk on. Applejack sat inside of her thoughts for several moments. 'What in the hay could've happened to make them hate us like this?'
Coming down the path, the two of them came up to an enormous wall that surrounded the city. Made out of a strong tan clay, it was at least forty feet in height above Applejacks head as she strained up to look at it. 'This darn thing is sure good protection i reckon.' she thought to herself.
The tall arched path under the wall was a true piece of work. Nearly every inch of the walls were etched with patterns and shapes, all made in the unique tribal designs similar to she form in which the cutie marks of zebras were designed. Seeing the sight made Applejack already amazed by the city already. When she passed under the wall, however, her jaw dropped to the ground.
The rows of long clay buildings stretched down far as she could see Along the tan sandstone paths. Palm trees stood high above the ground, creating long and shifting shadows as they blew in the gentle breeze. Many different masks similar to the ones set up inside of Zecora's hut were hung on the walls and post that were throughout the entrance courtyard. The thing about the city that caught Applejacks eyes most was its inhabitants.
Dozens of zebras walked down through the streets as they traveled to the shop they wanted to go to, or perhaps the new potion that was made at the mixing shop. Young Zebra filly's walked by as they chatted about. Adjoins things In which they were involved in recently. Many zebras turned to look at the former farmer, creating an uneasy feeling to grow inside of her chest. After a moment, however, they simply turned away from the face they didn't recognize and returned to whatever it was they were doing.
To Applejacks surprise, zebras l didn't look the same. Most zebras had the standard black and white pattern like Zecora did, while others had a tint of tan or brown mixed in with the white. And while all Zebras had a mohawk as part of their mane, the styles in which some of them had it in was truly fascinating; some had their Mohawk nearly shaved down save for a few inches, while others had curled and spun to a flowing wave design. Others had the back of their manes grow down almost like. applejack had hers, but with their own unique twists to it. Some had beads or ribbons tied in the ends, while others were pulled up tight in Ben wrapped around small wooden sticks.
Now Actually inside of the city, Applejack felt an enormous feeling of happiness come over her. 'Ah can't believe ah finally made it.' she thought to herself, 'Don't worry Applebloom, we are gonna get that medicine to ya soon.'
Zecora looked over to Applejack. "Let us go and find a place to stay. We can relax here for a day."
"We are gonna spend the night here?" Applejack asked curiously, "Ah thought ya wanted to just get the stuff fer the medicine."
"We have had a difficult way, so let us rest and slow down for a day. This is also where I'm from, so I wish to see faces to she what they have become."
Applejack realized that she had never even asked Zecora is she ever had family in all the times they talked back in Ponyville. Zecora had been completely isolated from all the ones she knew when she lived here for so long. Applejack could only imagine being separated from her family for a time like that. "Alright then, you know where we can stay?"
"There should be an inn right down this road. I am exhausted and want to drop my load." Zecora said as she glanced at her satchel. "perhaps you should take a break too. That leg which is bandaged was black and blue."
Applejack turned to look at the bandage wrapped around her ankle. Thankfully for her, it did not hurt her at all. "It's alright sugarcube. It ain't bad. And actually..." she turned completely around to see the large street market that was at the end of the road down by one of the flowing creeks. Her curiosity was itching at her to explore all of this new land, making her want to see what kind of things there were here. "Ah wanted to go by the market down there and check it out."
Zecora frowned at her, "You should not be down these roads alone and single. You have never been here, so you shouldn't just mingle."
"Ah'm alright. Ah just want to go and look around fer a little. Besides, no zebra can tell ah am a pony from yer disguise so far. Just fer like an hour. Then ah will meet ya down at the inn."
Zecora sat for a moment staring at her. Sighing, Zecora turned down the road she needed to go. "Do not be gone too late or out after dark, and do not go with a zebra to a place that is-"
"Zecora, don't worry about that." Applejack interjected, "Ah am definitely not going anywhere alone with some zebra stallion. Ah am also Probly not gonna buy anything. Ah just want to have a look."
Zecora gave a small nod, but still kept her upset look on her face. Turning, she waked down the path toward the inn she mentioned earlier, leaving Applejack alone in the street. "Alright Applejack..." she said to herself, "Let's go check out what zebras sell to each other."
Starting down the road to the market, she didn't notice the pair of curious eyes watching her go.
Applejack trotted down the wide path towards the market below. She stopped as she passed by a large store that looked intriguing; many bright and colorful birds were kept in many cages throughout the interior. "Must be some kind of pet shop." she said to herself. Deciding to have a little look, she stepped inside.
As soon as she passed through the doorway, a zebra came from the back. The female had a tall mohawk that curled forward and nearly touched her snout. Hanging back behind its head was a long mane that hung passed her shoulders and nearly touched its knees. Smiling, the store owner approached the counter, "So, a new customer in my shop. What can I help you with?"
Applejack looked around to the cages hung around inside. "Ah was just looking at the birds ya got here. They look real nice."
The store owner smiled at that, "Why yes, they make wonderful pets for young ones. Watch." opening one of the cages next to her, she pulled out a purple bird and help it down on the counter with one hoof, and with her other she pulled out a hatchet and lifted it above her head.
Applejack's eyes went wide at what she was seeing, "Wait, what are ya trying to-
Applejack felt like she was going to gag. The shopkeeper had just chopped off the birds head! 'What in the hay is she doin!?'
The owner grinned to herself and went back through the doorway to the back of the store. Applejack shot her eyes back and forth between the exit and the headless bird on the table. "This store is just weird, ah'm outta here!" turning around, she sprinted out of the store.
After Applejack ran out, the bird suddenly sat up and sprouted another head. It squawked as it looked around as if nothing had happened. The shopkeeper came back to the front, holding a bag of seed. "They eat this every week and-" she stopped when she saw no zebra there. "Huh. I guess she isn't interested in regenerative birds."
"what kind of sick store is that!? Chopping off that poor birds head. How the hay is that good for young ones?" Shaking off the odd event she just left, she trotted on to her main stop.
After a minute or so, she came up to the massive spread of carts, tents and blankets spread out over a very large dirt field. Hundreds of zebras were walking through the market as they bargained with the owners for better prices on whatever was being sold there. She stared in amazement at just how many different stalls had been set up here. Just one of the thirty columns contained enough spots to allow every single seller in Ponyville to set up their own carts.
Adjusting her hat, she took a deep breath and walked on into the large market. Passing by one stall, she looked inside; dozens of bright powders and herbs were laid out over a tarp on the ground. The owner, a male zebra with a tan and black coat was mixing up a silver liquid with a green powder in a bowl. After a few seconds of stirring, the mix turned into a light yellow mix. Taking the bowl, he poured it over a small daisy as a demonstration to the many other onlookers. Then, the flower began to shift, it's stem growing thicker and sprouting sharp points. It's leaves began to grow thicker and bundle together, even changing color.
After several more seconds, a rose had been formed.
Applejack stared in amazement at what she just saw, but looked down to her striped leg. 'Must be like that stuff Zecora put on me, able to change what something looks like.' Looking back up, she saw numerous zebras crowding around to buy the mix. Backing up, she walked on to the rest of the market.
The line of carts and tents bundled contained an amazing assortment of different things that Applejack had never seen before. Inside one tent, she saw a potion that when it was poured into a glass of water, the once clear liquid turned darker, swirling around until it became wine. Another shopkeeper was trying to convince her in buying a new mask, which confused her since she had noticed some zebras dressed in in what looked like old tribal outfits. “So, what are they all dressed up fer?” she asked the owner.
The stallion gave her an almost perplexed look at why she would ask that. “It’s the annual chief festival. The capital leader is preparing to leave for his usual month long journey to the next head village to conduct meeting with that clan. Don’t you remember?”
“Uh, no ah don’t. Ah am not from here.”
“Oh really? Alright then, I should have figured by your different accent.”
Applejack nodded and continued on down the path. As she walked on, she noticed one thing that caught her eye about the inhabitants here. While she always knew Zecora was slightly bigger than herself, Applejack was the smallest one in this entire area besides the fillies. Most other zebras were only a few inches taller than her, but some of the stallions were massive, even larger than her brother Big Mac!
All zebras had much thicker bodies than the average pony, which also added to their stature. Applejack felt like a small filly in the mix of a mass of adults. One thing that Zecora’s potion did not change about herself was her body size, which was still its normal pony frame. For some reason after that, she felt really insecure about being all alone in this place with nopony she knew around her. Deciding that she had enough of walking around here, she turned around and began to walk back towards the main street and the inn.
Weaving in and out of the crowded groups entering, Applejack finally found herself outside of the market and on the street leading up to the main road. Walking along the side of the street next to one of the buildings, her path was suddenly cut off by a large zebra. Looking up to her obstacle, she felt a small lump grow inside of her throat.
The stallion in front of her was enormous, easily bigger than her brother. Standing over five feet tall, the zebra towered over her with broad shoulders and a thick barrel chest. Below its narrow and trimmed low Mohawk it had across its left eye a scar running down to its chin. Its fur was a light brown mixed with black. Draped over its shoulder seemed to be a golden strap that traveled down to its waist where it held an assortment of small dagger like needles and a large knife. On his flank seemed to be a jewel from what Applejack could tell. And across its muzzle was a big grin. Applejack stared at a moment before speaking up. “Can ah help ya with somethin’?”
The big zebra nodded as he leaned his frame against the barrel next to him. “I was hoping to ask why have I not seen a sexy young mare like you around here before?”
Applejack rolled her eyes at the comment, now realizing that this was a pick up attempt. “Ah am not from here. Just passing through.”
“Oh, you are a visiter? Hmm, interesting, from what region?”
“The Everfree forest.”
The stallion lifted an eyebrow to that answer. “That is interesting. Perhaps me and you could talk more about yourself in the bar near here. My treat.”
Grunting, Applejack frowned at this attempt. “No thanks, partner. Now if ya could excuse me, ah have to go.” She began to try to step around him, only to Have the stallion step out in front of her. The grin across his face caused a chill to run up her spine. "Can ya move, please?"
"Come on now, why don't you come enjoy some time with me? I know you would love it if you came down with me." The stallion grinned as he took a step in her direction. "I can give you a good time I assure you."
Applejack felt the sweat begin to form under her fur as she stepped back. "Ah said no, so why don't ya just let me go where ah need to go?" She attempted to go between him and the building, but was met his his strong leg stuck out against the wall stopping her once again. She was beginning to get scared as she realized this zebra was determined in what he wanted. Looking around, she saw several other zebras watching the small predicament she was in, but turned their heads and looked away.
She felt betrayed at why these zebras were refusing to help her, but the stubborn zebra answered that for her. "I don't think you know who I am, do you? You should realize it would be better for you to just say yes and join me."
"I believe she said no."
Both Applejack and her roadblock turned to see another zebra stallion walking towards them. He was taller than Applejack, in between the size of her and the stubborn stallion in front. His golden eyes shined in the light of the sun as he walked. His Mohawk was similar to Zecora's, except it ran farther down his neck to the beginning of his back. His stripes were much more defined than most zebras around, the lighter fur nearly pure white. On his flank was a tribal cutie mark of a drum. Around his waist he also sported a belt carrying a dagger along with several other hidden items.
The large zebra glared at the newcomer. "What do you want, Graylin ?"
Graylin simply walked up until he was several feet from the two. "I think the mare said that she wasn't interested, Krelack. You should learn to respect the simple answer she had."
Krelack snickered. "I asked politely. She was going to say yes. She just didn't know she was going to yet." He turned his gaze down to Applejack and grinned as he watched her huddle under his eyes. "You should know that I have not seen a mare as nice as yourself in a while. You would love to come with me and-
Graylin stepped between Krelack and Applejack with a threatening look in his eyes. "I will ask you now. Leave."
Applejack looked back and forth between the two zebras as they stared each other down. She was afraid of what might have happened any second until Krelack stepped out away from the wall to allow passage. As Graylin stepped past his opposer, Krelack whispered out. "You are going to regret getting in my way again. Don't forget what I am capable of."
Not even looking his direction, Graylin spoke out. "I know what you are capable of, Krelack. I have seen it several times. And I do not care who you may be related to, I don't bow to you." Turning his head around, he nodded to Applejack to signal her to follow.
Applejack was hesitant at first since she had no idea who this zebra was either, but seeing that he helped her gave her enough trust to go with him. As she walked up by his side, her eyes met up with Krelack, who stared her down as she and her aid walked down the path.
Applejack walked quietly along side Graylin down the path away from the market for a few minutes before she even looked up in his direction. When she did, she noticed that he was staring back at her as well. Quickly Turning away out of embarrassment, she finally broke the silence. "Hey, thanks for helpin' me back there."
Graylin just smiled at her. "No problem. I couldn't just leave you alone with him."
"Some of them other zebra did." She sneered back in response.
"I know. Sorry about that. Most of the zebras here will not get in Krelacks way when he wants something."
Applejack perked up an eyebrow to that statement. "Why? Is he important or somethin'?"
Before he responded, Graylin turned his gaze to a small tavern that had several open stools on the street counter. "Why don't I explain some of it over a drink."
Applejack's mouth hung open for a moment at hearing that before she frowned. "Really? Ah just passed that big fella who wanted a drink, and now y'all askin' me for one?"
Graylin chuckled at her response. "I won't try anything funny. I just thought it would be nice to talk to you and help you understand this place since you are new here. If you feel uncomfortable at all, you can leave anytime you want. Promise."
Looking past him, Applejack stared at the bar for a moment before turning back down the street they were heading. The inn in which Zecora had said she was going to was in sight now. Seeing it wasn't far, she figured learning a few things weren't bad then. "Alright, just ONE drink." She emphasized with a hoof in the air.
Smiling, Graylin trotted ahead of her towards the counter. From behind, Applejack sat still as she watched him walk, the muscles in his legs rippling with every step he took. How his coat gleamed in the sunlight and-
"Whoa whoa whoa!" Applejack mentally smacked herself at what she was doing as she talked to herself. "Was ah just checking him out? What in the hay is wrong with me! Ah don't even know him!" She stopped her little rant as she watched him sit up in the stool, his toned body and clean look standing out amongst all the others around him. "But... He is much better lookin' than most zebras here. And so far he is pretty darn nice and- ah! What ah'm ah doin'!"
Shaking her head of those thoughts, she trotted up to the bar and took a seat next to him. Grabbing the drink that was poured by the bartender, she gave it a small sniff before taking a sip of it. To her surprise, it tasted almost like a mint styled drink. It was more sweet than most drinks she had tasted, and had less of a kick than her traditional sweet apple cider. She could tell that having several of these drinks wouldn't have given her a buzz, then again she was always a heavyweight when it came to drinks.
"This is pretty good ah gotta say." She said.
Graylin smiled and took a sip himself. "It's one of our top drinks here. Mint is a little harder to come by out here, but it is worth the little extra."
Hearing these drinks were more than normal made Applejack feel a little guilty, "Well if they are more, ah don't want ya to be payin' all this then. Ah can grab a few bits and-
"No no no..." Graylin responded, "I agreed to treat, so don't worry about it." He looked to the hat on her head and grinned, "If you want to repay me, I could just enjoy that hat for some time."
Applejack chuckled at his idea, "Sorry partner, but this is not fer bargaining. This stays with me."
Heh heh, alright. By the way, why to wearing that? That is a pony hat."
The breath got caught in Applejacks throat when she heard that. 'Shoot, he's gonna figure it out.' She thought to herself.
It's... Uh, just a hat ah wear. Is it a problem?"
Graylin shook his head, "No, I don't have any problem with it. I just never see zebras wanting to wear that stuff. In fact, I think you look really good in it." He finished off with a smile and a wink.
'Oh gosh, he is flirtin with me!' She screamed in her head. while that Krelack had made her all uneasy, she couldn't help but feel a warm blush spread across her cheeks. quickly turning away, she grabbed her drink and took a mouthful to hide her redness. While she did however, she choked on some that went down her windpipe, causing her to cough up a small amount. Now her face had grown even deeper red from embarrassment as she turned back to Graylin, who only burst out in laughter at her expense.
Frowning at first, Applejack couldn't resist but start laughing as well. Both had a comical conversation for a short time before they got control of their giggles. After another sip, she shifted in her chair to look at her new acquaintance. "So, who is this Krelack anyhow?"
Lowering the drink from his lips, Graylin gave a small shrug. "If you consider royalty and being the son of the high chief, you can say he is pretty powerful."
Applejacks eyes widened to the size of dinner plates when she heard that. "S-son? He is the prince?"
"Only because of blood..." Graylin sneered as he took another drink, "he is a disgrace when it comes to ruling. The only reason he hasn't already become a full blown nutshell is because of his father, Chief Whiplash. He keeps Krelack in check."
Adjusting the Stetson on her head, Applejack thought about what she had done; she had rejected the attempts of a prince. Not only that, judging from what she was hearing, this zebra was even worse than that Prince Blueblood of Canterlot Rarity had the experience of spending an evening with. "Has this Krelack always been this way?"
"Ever since he was attacked by a group of ponies? Yeah, he has been like this." Graylin let out a small chuckle after that.
"What? Ponies attacked him?" Applejack Gasped at that, but when Graylin turned and stared her right in the eye with a stern gaze. His eyes were filled with a mix of sorrow and anger that sent chills down her back. "Wh-what is the matter?"
"You don't know the story?" He asked. Seeing her shake her head, he continued. "Seven years ago, Krelack and several other zebras were on a scouting mission outside our land across the Dragons Eye. They were looking for special ingredients that that land possesses that we don't. While they were out, a group of ponies ambushed them. After a long fight, two of Krelacks soldiers were killed before they finally stopped the attackers."
"Oh mah gosh..." Applejack gasped. She then realized what Zecora said earlier about zebras not trusting ponies. Now she understood it was because of this."so that is how he got that scar, right? He had to fight off them criminals?"
"Oh he got a scar from those ponies, but he wasn't defending himself."
Applejack was really confused now, "Wait, what? Ah thought ya just said they were attacked."
"That is the story that nearly every zebra here knows, but that is a lie; Krelack attacked them to loot them. The ponies fought back to protect themselves. Like I did say, two zebras were killed in the conflict, and Krelack used that as a perfect alibi for his actions."
"But... How would you know that?"
Graylin glanced over to the bartender to make sure he wasn't listening, "Because I was there. I just became a soldier when I was told to follow along with Krelack and his group. I just caught up with them when I saw them attacking them..." He paused to take a deep breath as he remembered the incident, " I still remember the look on that mares face, the fear in her eyes when he..." He didn't want to say anymore.
Applejack sat still as she saw the emotions of the zebra in front of her come out. She could tell that he was being completely honest with her with everything he was saying. "If it is the truth, why doesn't no zebra know 'bout it?"
"It is my word against the next in line for the throne, who do you think the city will believe? I had to make a deal with him that if I kept my mouth shut, he would keep me as a soldier. Trust me, it isn't like I want to, but he knows I am a good warrior."
"Why are ya tellin' me then?"
A small grin spread across Graylins muzzle. "You aren't even from around here, and already have a bad taste for Krelack. I figured his true face would let you see who he was."
Applejack chuckled at that. "Well, that was a good talk, but ah gotta get goin' now." Hopping off her stool, she turned to the inn down the road, "ah'm stayin' there, so ah can walk alone now."
Graylin gave a nod in her direction. "Alright then. Be careful now. Perhaps we will see each other again sometime."
"Heh heh, perhaps. And... Thanks again for earlier."
Graylin stood up and trotted over to her, "No problem. Always good to help and..." He paused as he stared at her intently, causing her to take a step back.
"Uh, y'all ok?" Applejack asked.
"Your eyes. They look like..." Graylin turned to the ground as he thought to himself. "Never mind, I thought they reminded me of..."
"Mah eyes? What would mah eyes remind ya of?"
Graylin waved a hoof in the air, "Never mind, don't worry about it. I was just thinking of... Something in the past. I have to get going now." He turned and began to trot away before turning back to her with a smile, "Listen, I don't want to sound like I'm coming on already, but I was wondering that if you are going to be here tomorrow night if you were going to the festival here."
Applejacks eyes widened hearing him asking her out to the festival. Was he asking her out or just as friends? She couldn't tell, but she felt herself blushing again. "Uh, ah uh... Not sure if ah'm gonna be here." She turned to go inside the inn but stopped at the door and looked back. "If ah will be here, ah can meet ya there. Alright?"
Tilting his head, Graylin thought for a moment before turning up to her, "To make it easier, we can meet up at the bar again tomorrow evening around dusk."
"Uh.. Yeah that will be good. I am just gonna get goin' and- oomph!"
Applejack stumbled back a step after she walked blindly into the side of the building missing the door, bringing another chuckle from Graylin and more blushing from her. "Heh heh, ah'm gonna go now. Bye."
After she walked inside, Graylin trotted back down the road towards his home. He couldn't help but feel somewhat happy with meeting her here. As he thought about her, however, he had a nagging feeling at the back of his head. "What was that all about earlier? Her eyes... They looked just like that pony all those years ago." Thinking it over a little more, he just figured he was just retelling the story and his mind was playing tricks on him.
"But why can't we see Applebloom? We haven't seen her at all these last two days." Sweetie Belle asked.
Granny Smith stood at the doorway looking down at the two fillies that had been begging to see Applebloom the entire day. She sorrowfully shook her head. "Ah'm sorry little ones, but ah don't think it is the best time ta see her. She ain't feelin' well."
"But... we want to make sure she is alright." Scootaloo pleaded, "If you could just let us go in for just a little, we would be so happy."
"Look, ah know how much ya care fer Applebloom, and ah know ya want her to be better soon. Ah just have ta say no, though. she needs her rest. As soon as she is better, ah will make sure y'all are here when she gets up."
Sweetie Belle ran forward up to Granny's legs. "Oh please let us see her. I heard from Rarity that she was really sick." she then put on the biggest puppy dog face to try to reach the elders soft spot. While this would work on the average pony, Granny gave a small chuckle at the attempt.
"Heh heh, ah have had that face used on me fer as long as ah can remember. it don't phase me." granny reached down and patted the two of them on their heads. "You are really good friends to Applebloom. Now go on home, its getting dark."
Scootaloo grunted in defeat. "Fine. If we can't see her, can you give this to her at least?" She she turned around and grabbed the small bag she had set on the ground. Opening it up, she pulled out the blue cape and handed it up to the older mare. "It would make us feel better if she at least had her cutie mark crusader cape with her. Let her know that with that, we will always be with her."
Smiling, Granny grabbed the cape from her. "Ah will be sure ta tell her. Now go home, ah don't want yer family ta worry where ya are."
Turning around the two cutie mark crusaders walked away together from the farm house back towards Ponyville, leaving Sweet Apple Acres to sit quietly in the evening sky. Closing the door, she walked into the living room where Big Mac was once again changing the rags on top of her grandfillies forehead. "How is she feeling?" She asked.
Giving a loud sigh, Big Mac turned to his Granny. "The same as always. Just really warm. Ah don't think these rags really help much."
"Just make sure they stay on her. Any little bit helps." Granny looked down to the sleeping filly on the couch wrapped up tight in blankets. Applebloom's mane was in shambles, sticking up in several directions from being bed ridden. 'Oh Applebloom, ah hope ya get better soon.' she thought to herself.
She turned back to Macintosh and noticed his droopy eyes. "Mac, y'all been watchin' Applebloom all day. She will be fine till mornin'. Why don't ya go get some rest now, alright?"
Yawning, he stood up and stretched his legs out. "Eeyup. g'night granny."
Watching him walk upstairs, Granny Smith laid the cape down across Applebloom. "Here. Ah know ya probably can't hear me, but yer friends gave ya this. Keep it close."
Applebloom remained quiet, her chest slowly rising and falling. Granny leaned down and kissed her on the cheek before heading up stairs herself. Before she got to her room, however, she stopped when she came upon her other granddaughters bedroom, empty as it had been for the last two days.
Ever since she heard from Zecora what Applejack had chosen to go with her to retrieve the ingredients for the medicine, Granny had felt a horrible pain deep inside of her chest. Knowing the direction where they were going, she had wanted to go to Applejack and order her not to partake, but she had chosen to hold back her tongue. Even if she had, she knew that it wouldn't have made a difference; she would have gone either way, with or without approval to go and get those ingredients needed.
walking on into her bedroom, she trotted to her closet and moved passed the many boxes stacked in the back. She stopped and looked over her shoulder to make sure she was alone in the room. Once she was certain, she moved past the pile of books, and came upon the small chest she had stowed back there. taking a deep breath, she pulled it out for the first time in six years and opened up the lid.
Inside sat a sapphire necklace, a dagger enscribed with tribal markings, and a single picture of five ponies; A large tan stallion in a stetson hat standing next to an orange mare with shining green eyes. sitting below them were two fillies; a red colt and a little orange filly. All were smiling together as they sat around a crib which contained a tiny newborn yellow filly.
A tear dripped down Granny's face as she sat quietly in her closet. "Is it fate this happens? Applejack is going to the same place they went back then?"
Stirring in her bed, Applejack sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. She opened her eyelids as she stared at her striped legs, something he ha grown accustomed to now over the last few days. Yawning, she moved herself up and out of the side of the bed and onto the floor. popping her neck, she shook her body to loosen up her sore muscles and looked around.
When she had arrived the night before, she was too exhausted to really see what her room was like, but now she sat and couldn't help but admire the work that was done. The clay walls were lined in graphic designs that stood out to her eyes. Thick stems of bamboo braced the corners of the room and ran across the ceiling. Right next to her bed was a small dresser made of white wood that held her Stetson on the top. Trotting back over to it, she picked it up and placed it on top of her head above her short Mohawk.
Going into the bathroom, she rinsed off her face to really wake herself up. After drying herself off, she walked back into the room. "So Zecora, ah was thinkin' that now we are here, how long will..." Applejack stopped when she realized she was alone in the room. "Zecora?"
The other bed in the room was already neatly made and vacant. The only thing that was off about it was the small note left on the pillow. Curious, she trotted over and opened it up for her to see before she started reading out loud. "Dear Applejack, I am leaving early but I will be back. I am going to gather the medicine that we need, so we can return home and complete our deed. I will be gone for several hours at least, so you can go to a diner and enjoy an early feast. I also have to see some faces I've known, so I would prefer if I saw them alone. So enjoy the morning while I am away, but don't let your guard drop and your mind astray."
After finishing the note, Applejack couldn't help but chuckle to herself. "She even rhymes when she writes stuff down." She also felt happy knowing that they were that much closer to getting the cure for her sister and returning home. "Don't worry now Applebloom. ah'm comin' home soon."
The growl in her stomach broke her out of her thinking. "Heh, guess ah will go get somethin' to eat right now." Her amusement suddenly disappeared when she realized her small predicament. "How in the hay am ah supposed to pay fer food if ah have no bits from this place?"
She highly doubted that this land accepted equestrian bits or not, which would have caused her a problem if she went somewhere and tried to use those. Her eyes then drifted over to the small dresser by Zecora's bed and revealed a small pile of shining pieces. Coming closer, she saw while bits back home were of gold, the ones here were made of silver. Picking one of them up, she noticed that one side was inscribed with strange swirl pattern designs, while the other had what appeared to be an odd looking staff.
A smirk spread across Applejacks face. "Ah owe ya another thing Zecora." Gathering up the small pile of silver, she slipped them into one of her small satchels and slipped it over her shoulder. Walking out of the room, she traveled down the narrow hallway and out the front door to the streets outside.
Outside of the inn she walked out of, Applejack noticed the small stall set up that was selling a mixture of medical herbs. Curious, she walked over to it and looked into the glasses lined across the counter. Some of the jars contained powders ranging from light sandy yellow to a deep purple tone. Others were filled with what appeared to be a yellowish colored bundle or roots, the small pieces inside sprouting off in random directions from the thick stems. The more she looked at the items, the more interested she was in finding out what they all did.
Suddenly, an idea popped in her head. "Maybe ah can help look fer the stuff Zecora needs to get fer the medicine!" She happily said to herself. The faster she could get to Applebloom, the faster she could help her get better. Walking up to the counter, she looked around for a worker to help. "Uh, 'xcuse me?" She asked out aloud. "Can y'all help me?"
Standing up from behind the counter, the stallion revealed himself to her. His Mohawk was split into three different sections down his neck. Smiling, he placed a hoof on the counter and leaned her direction. "Hello there. Need help with an ailment?" He casually asked.
"Eeyup, ah do. Well..." Applejack paused for a moment. She didn't want to say it to make it seem like she was desperate, because if she did he may start asking a lot more questions about things, which meant more chances of her giving away her disguise. Choosing the story she wanted , she cleared her throat and began again. "Yeah, mah friend had cured a illness not too long ago and asked if ah could grab more ingredients fer her. Y'all think ya could help me?"
"Sure. What is the illness. That she fixed?"
Well, ah don't know the name of it, but the... Uh, zebra that had it was burning up real bad from heat. She was almost passed out all the time and really pale, but it never got worse than that. They just stayed like that fer a long time and never got better."
The stall owner stared at her for a few moments, his smile fading off his face. "Did she have any symptoms before she got sick? And did any zebra get sick around her?"
"No, none have gotten sick, and she just dropped sick one day."
"That's not a sickness she has then..." He quietly answered, "that's a rare disease called Leumolia."
Just the sound of it sent a chill up Applejacks spine. "Wh-what does that do?"
"It's a rare thing that some develop inside their body. The part of the brain that moderates internal temperature begins fluctuating, causing a very strong fever to develop. While it isn't fatal, unless the disease is removed, the subject won't fully recover." He sighed and looked at the jars he had. "Unfortunately, I don't have anything that cures Leumolia. Only the top potion makers are even qualified to make that kind of thing. Sorry."
Applejack took a deep breath, exhaling through her teeth in defeat. "Thank ya though. Ah appreciate it." Walking away from the stall, she realized Zecora did know what she was doing in searching for the ingredients she needed. Deciding to go on, she saw the resteraunt to the right of the hotel and decided to go grab something to eat.
Sitting down in the small diner, Applejack quietly ate the plate of food she had in front of herself. The sandwich was a honeydew bread filled with savannah grass. While the bread was something she was comfortable with, the grass was something far different than she expected. Most grass she would eat back home was very soft and moist. This however was extremely dry and crunchy when she bid down on it. While it didn't taste bad, the texture just gave an odd feeling when chewing.
Once she was done, she drained her glass of water and called the waitress over for a refill. With her new glass, she now slowly dipped at it as she looked around the rest of the resteraunt. It amazed her how similar this place was to her own home back in Equestria. The way the zebras interacted with family members, the way the workers talked to the customers. It all showed her how the only real difference between zebras and ponies were the colors of their coat.
That thought made her frustrated with the news she had learned from Graylin the day before; zebras hated ponies because of what was told to them by the corrupt prince. While she was concerned at first that her new "friend" zebra was lying to her about everything, Applejack had actually asked around to others to see what they thought on the subject.
Five minutes earlier
"So, will that be all for your order?" The waitress asked Applejack.
"Yeah. Hey ah had a question..." AJ asked, "the festival tonight is to honor the chief, right?"
"So that means the prince is going to take over?"
The mare suddenly gave a big smile and sighed, "yes, Lord Krelack will take the throne for the month."
Applejack took note of the mares sudden happy thoughts about that zebra. "Ah take it y'all are fond of him?"
"Of course, he is such a strong and powerful zebra. Ever since he came back told how he was attacked by those bandits, every zebra around here knows how brave he is."
"So is that the story all of y'all know?"
"Yes, the prince came back with that horrible scar and explained how two of his guards were killed defending him. Those zebras were all part of his personal squad he had trained with. After that, he is always treated with respect because of his bravery, and ..."the waitress bit her bottom lip and winked, "he is quite generous when he is... Entertained."
Even being a farm pony, Applejack didn't need to think much to pick up on her message. Forcing a fake chuckle, she turned away and let the waitress go back into the kitchen.
After talking with the fantasizing waitress, Applejack struck up a small talk conversation with the stallion next to her as well. Swerving the conversation towards Krelack again, she asked him about the scar he had. Like the other zebra, he explained how the prince got it away from the city when they were attacked by ponies. While they all seemed to believe what was told to them, Applejack could sense that there was a stretch to the tale being told. This prince also seemed to have a knack for "services" from the mares around here; making her shudder at the thought she was asked for that yesterday.
Shaking her head, she placed a few pieces of silver down onto the table and walked out of the resteraunt to the street. Looking up to the sky at the sun, the former pony could tell it had been less than an hour since she got up. Frowning, she stood still for a moment as she contemplated what to do. Zecora said she was to be gone for several hours, yet didn't say how long exactly. This meant Applejack was stuck waiting for Celestia knows how long. "This is just great. Should ah just sit in the room for now then?" She grunted to herself.
Applejack flipped around to the deep gruff voice from behind, coming face to... Mask with a large zebra. She stepped back in shock from the large tribal mask it wore over its face. "Uh, ah think ya got me confused with some other zebra."
"Nope, no I didn't." The mystery zebra said
Now Applejack was confused. "Look, ah don't know who ya are, okay?"
"What are you going to forget that drink I got you yesterday?" The masked stallion asked, this time his voice normal and not all raspy and deep.
"Wait..." Applejack stuttered as she watched the zebra lift the mask, revealing a familiar face with a large grin. Seeing who it was, she rolled her eyes with a small chuckle. "Y'all think it was funny messing with me like that, Graylin?"
Graylin laughed at his joke. "Just figured to see your reaction to a stranger."
"With a voice like that, y'all sound like a perve walkin' down the street."
Hehehe. So what y'all doin here again? Y'all followin' me?"
"Actually, I was heading to the palace halls to prepare for the festival this afternoon. I'm part of the guard after all and have to help with it." He noticed how she was just standing here alone. "So what are you doing here?"
"Oh, ah was just wastin' time until mah friend returns." Applejack answered, still unsure how long she was supposed to wait.
Graylin lifted his eyebrow in thought. "Well if you aren't doing anything for a while, why don't you come down with me? You can be my guest at the festival."
In a flash, Applejacks body suddenly became really hot. Mostly it was because of nerves of going to the royal zebra palace, a place that would be crawling with zebras everywhere. While she seemed to get by with her disguise pretty well, she was still nervous about how she acted around others. Another part of her was jumpy because he had just seemingly asked her out to something that seemed similar to the Gala. 'This guy really is tryin' ta ask me out!' She screamed to herself.
While she was usually against the thought of going out, she knew she wasn't going to stay the whole day anyway, which meant her and Zecora would be gone before the festival really started. Happy she would be able to get out and back home, she smiled up to him. Sure, ah'll go with ya."