\AN: This is now the old version, go see part 1 edited version cause it's better.\
"B-but Twilight, it's dangerous in the Everfree..."
"There are Manticores, and Hydras, and Cockatrices..."
"And Dragons and Parasprites and thorns and dark caves..."
Twilight sighed, letting her friend continue to point out the myriad of dangers in the forest. The same forest they had been walking in for the last half hour without Fluttershy noticing. Eventually the pegasus would end her list of reasons not to go in, what she did when she realized they were deep inside was easily predictable by anypony that knew her.
"And Ursa minors and sharp sticks..."
Catching a break in the rant, Twilight stopped her friend with an outstretched hoof. "Fluttershy, we're already here." Fluttershy looked at the unicorn for a moment, confused, before taking in her surroundings. They were surrounded by tall, dark trees that blotted out the sky with spindly branches, wilted shrubs and an unhealthy grass that defined the strange forest. Her eyes went wide and she let out a high pitched squeak before doing a flip, landing on her back with yellow legs sticking straight into the air and wings glued to her sides.
This was to be expected, honestly. Twilight was amazed that the timid mare had managed to get this far without panicking. "Come on Fluttershy, Zecora's hut isn't far from here." she said supportively, gently nudging the prone pony onto her hooves.
"Eep!" was Fluttershy's reply as she tried to hide behind the other mare. Her impromptu cover rolled her eyes and looked back at the cowering pegasus.
"We'll only be here for a few more minutes so I can pick up some tea from Zecora, then right back to Ponyville," her motivation seemed to have minimal affect. "Fluttershy, the only thing you have to worry about are the animals. I've seen you talk down a dragon, what are a few stray Manticores going to do?"
With the mention of her past bravery, Fluttershy raised her head to see Twilight's confident grin. There wasn't much alternative, now that she thought about it; she could trot back to Ponyville on her own of course. Alone through the dark, eerie forest with it's strange noises and ominous flora, the possibility of a dragon or some other terrible thing hiding behind every tree, hounding her imagination with fright every step...
Twilight blinked at the empty space where a yellow pegasus had been, Fluttershy quickly trotting towards the zebra's hut. "Wow, I must be better at motivational speaking than I thought," the unicorn mused, breaking into a short run to catch up.
Around a bend in the path, the mares could see the gentle lights from Zecora's hut. Seemingly built into an almost spherical tree base, the house would have been creepy had the two not been friends with it's sole resident. To be fair, it was still a touch strange with the carved masks and candlelight. The zebra herself was outside, back turned to the ponies as she looked to the west.
"Zecora!" Twilight called, "It's been-" she started, but Zecora quieted her with gesture. She continued to stare, concentration etched on her face, into the dense foliage, an opportune wind rustling her black and white striped mane. The unicorn almost giggled at the scene, it seemed like something straight from a cheesy adventure story.
Finally, the zebra turned to face them with a warm smile. "Ah, my two pony friends, what brings you to this trails end?"
Fluttershy involuntarily shook; the memories of when that rhyming voice had filled her with dread were still fresh
"Just the usual tea pick up, Zecora." the purple mare said, "and it's been awhile since we had time to catch up."
The zebra shook her head, "I'm afraid that I have not the time, tonight is for a special trip of mine."
"Oh, well, we wouldn't want to bother you. We should just go back to Ponyville, where it's nice and not so dark." Fluttershy said, eager to leave the Everfree forest.
Zecora frowned in thought for a moment, "Perhaps you two can accompany me, this is a sight not only I should see." Twilight didn't hesitate before nodding, happy to learn more of her distant friend.
"You can stay here if you want, Fluttershy. I'd like to see what Zecora has to show us." She told her infamously frightened friend, the mare and aforementioned zebra starting off.
Fluttershy's eyes darted around, realizing that she'd be stuck in this forest either way. Surely it'd be less... terrifying with company though. The pegasus saw Twilight and Zecora moving away and galloped to stay near them, despite her every muscle feeling rigid.
The walk was short but quiet, Fluttershy was too busy cringing from imagined monsters to talk in anything louder than a whisper and Zecora's rhyming made conversation a challenge. Twilight wasn't too put out though, they had come to their destination. A circular clearing in the trees, the earth bare and soft, only marred by a lone granite slab in the center.
Zecora approached the marking and gave it a respectful bow. Twilight stood next to her, waiting for the zebra to explain. When she made no move to speak, the mare looked down at the stone. Cracked and worn by time, the inscription was barely legible, 'E-ber Hoo-, F-ever free.' Zecora pulled a slender candle from her saddlebags and placed it atop the slab and began to tell the story in an almost lyrical fashion.
"Back during the reign of Discord when all was mad, the ponies beneath his claw were never glad.
They did not know freedom or peace, only the cruel chaos and his tease.
A colt was raised in this but he craved more, the slavery and torment made his spirit sore. One fateful day he ran free, out to this forest for what he couldn't see."
Pausing, she raised a pair of small rocks above the candle. Zecora brought them together with a clack, creating a cascade of sparks that lit a delicate flame on the wax.
"To be released from his bounds, he left behind all that had become fond.
Ember sought relief from pains, those that would not be slain.
Out he came to this wood, and here he thought his life was good.
He died free but alone, not a soul to hear his last sorrowful moan."
As the last echo of the song drifted away, a sense of restlessness and nervous energy settled around the three. Zecora closed her eyes, humming a low tune in her native tongue. Twilight looked at the stone sadly, silently mourning for the long past colt.
Fluttershy rested on her haunches just behind them, the beginning of a tear in her eyes. She sniffed quietly, letting her long pink mane hide her face. She couldn't imagine what would drive anypony to seek solitude in anyplace as oppressing as the Everfree. If what Zecora said was true... and all those poor ponies...
The pegasus felt something behind her, a passing breeze, and jerked her head to look back. A flash of red and gold darting behind a tree, a childish giggle. Confused, she tried to follow, twisting her head to spot another movement on her right.
Anticipating where the next appearance would be, Fluttershy locked her gaze forward. A colt, mane like dancing flames, met her eyes with his dark blue ones. She saw the burning intensity in those orbs, for a moment she could've sworn she knew how he felt. Exhilaration, fearless, the world open and full of possibilities. Was that how it felt to be free?
It ended as suddenly as it came, the Everfree returning to it's devices as the repose was broken. Fluttershy blinked to clear her eyes, getting to her hooves with a start when she noticed her two companions on either side. "You okay Fluttershy? You look like you've seen a ghost." Twilight asked, her voice weakly suggesting a joke. The yellow mare gave her friend as reassuring a smile as she could muster.
The trio began their journey home, the weight of what had been learned and remembered weighing their hooves. As the two ponies left the zebra, turning towards Ponyville, Fluttershy couldn't help but look back. For just a moment, she had been free from her baseless fears and hopeless temerity. Just a taste, but it had been so tantalizing to the pegasus...