--Approximately 1000 Years Later--
(Present Day: Ponyville)
Twilight Sparkle woke up with a start. Once again, the purple Unicorn found herself laying on top of an opened textbook, next to a note filled scroll, the fruits of her late night studies. Draped over her shoulders was a warm blanket, courtesy of Spike, her number one assistant. The baby dragon could be found in curled up in his little basket, muttering as he fought off imaginary foes.
Twilight got up with a yawn and a stretch. After picking herself up, she lifted her book up with her magic only to change her mind and gently float the text back down; she could reshelf the book later.
The book was opened to an undetailed map of the Everfree Forest, the large dark woods that laid on the border of Ponyville. The forest stood a testimony that Equestria wasn't not always the most peaceful place. Frightening tales of hostile creatures that took care of themselves and plants that grew on their own and weather that no Pegasus could control generally kept ponies from visiting the area. Twilight herself had barely escaped the forest with her life some several times.
The studious Unicorn had come to the belief that learning the history of certain holidays would be a fun and enlightening experience for everypony. The next Winter Wrap Up was a flop, as Twilight's lectures proved to be great distractions and obstacles; several plows and the school's chalkboard had to replaced after an incident in the fields.
Twilight decided that she would be better prepared for Nightmare Night. That meant starting her studies on the subject an entire season before the actual celebration.
Texts on the subject of Nightmare Night or Nightmare Moon were, however, few and far between. Besides the prophesy she had read some time ago, Twilight could find no information on the actual history of the holiday, though this was to be expected, seeing as no one had recognized Nightmare Moon (besides Twilight) when she had returned.
Twilight had changed her approach and began studying the Elements of Harmony and the old castle found in the Everfree in search for clues. From what she gathered, Twilight concluded that the disappearance of the Elements corresponded with the abandonment of the old castle because of the growing Everfree Forest. If these times were accurate, then Nightmare Moon's rise must have been related to the growth in the Everfree, Twilight thought logically. From there, Twilight redirected her energy and studies to those shady woods. Unfortunately, little information could be found on that subject as well.
To Twilight's frustration, the map she had been studying provided only two landmarks: the old castle and the statue of Nightmare Moon. No other details were provided save for a few wicked trees and furious animals drawn in the cartographer's attempt to remove space.
I should visit Zecora later. Twilight thought to herself. If there was any expert on the Everfree Forest, it would be the zebra who dwelled mysteriously in the dark forest by herself.
Any further thoughts were interrupted by the roar of a ferocious beast.
Right after breakfast...
"Remind me why we're going into the Everfree again," Rainbow Dash said, the cyan Pegasus with a polychromatic mane attempting to mask her discomfort with annoyance and indifference. The short distance between her and her ground-bound friends was, however, an obvious indication that the high flier held some apprehension in entering the unnatural forest.
"I am also confused as to why you, er, 'invited' us out here," a white Unicorn exclaimed. Her name was Rarity and did not bother to hide her displeasure of spending the day in a dangerous and, over all, dirty environment. The Unicorn had just finished grooming her purple mane to perfect and the possibility of soiling her coiffure did not sit well with her.
"Any reason why yah ask'd fer rope, hun?" asked Applejack, an orange Earth Pony, her blond mane tied in a pony tail beneath her light brown stetson hat. On her back was saddlebag, each pocket with a coil of strong rope. When stretched, each piece was over twenty feet in length.
Behind the farm pony was Pinkie Pie, a cheerful Earth Pony who, as in accordance with her name, was pink. If the dreary environment had any affect on this pony, she did not show it, bouncing while the others walked, humming a cheery little tune.
The Pegasus behind her was a different matter; Fluttershy glanced over her shoulder every so often, squeaking in fear at anything that could be a threat. Which, as far as this yellow pony was concerned, was everything
"Can't we want until day?" the timid Pegasus asked quietly.
"Fluttershy, it's noon."
"Oh, how about tomorrow then?"
"Oh Fluttershy, there's nothing to be afraid about, silly billy. Your auntie Pinkie Pie has it all taken care of!"
"I'm a year--"
"When I was a little filly and the sun--"
"Well Rainbow Dash, to answer your question," Twilight quickly intervened, "I thought we should all pay Zecora a visit. She rarely goes to town and we rarely come over to say hi. After all, Friendship Report 93.3 states--"
"'Friends should always be up to date with the issues and events their friends are having so as to avoid appearing insensitive and to always be ready to help at times of need,'" her friends droned monotonously.
"Er, well, yes," Twilight said, a little surprised and a bit annoyed at her friends' lack of enthusiasm.
"So what are we gonna say?" asked Rainbow Dash. "'Hi, we were just in the neighborhood'?"
"Well actually, I was wondering if Zecora knew any history on the Everfree..."
Twilight's answer was met with groans of varying levels and volumes. She ignored them.
"Did you know these woods apparently just appeared. There are no documents measuring or mapping the growth of the forest at all. Isn't that strange?"
Twilight glanced over to her companions, expectantly. With a sigh, Rarity spoke up.
"Very well, why is that strange?"
Twilight grinned wildly. "The Everfree Forest surround the Princesses' old palace. You'd think that if the Princesses were so close to such a dangerous place, everypony would be monitoring the forest. But there have been no maps, no charts, not a mention of the Everfree until after the rise of Nightmare Moon."
Twilight took a breath and looked down, frowning at the barely visible path. "I'm sure if we knew more about the Everfree, it wouldn't be so scary." The purple Unicorn's face lit up. "Maybe if we understood the forest, we could try civilizing it. Yeah, we replace this old trail with a paved road and signs cautioning ponies of Poison Joke and wild animals. Ooh, and we could set up lanterns and lamps and..."
Twilight began to trail off, lost in her own world and imagination. If she could get permission from the Princess and the mayor, there could be so many changes.
Applejack chuckled and placed a hoof on Twilight's shoulder, the touch returning her to reality. "Ho there, Twi, lets not git ahead of our selves. I'm guessing this here rope is step one, so we don't lost, right?"
"Oh, that's a wonderful idea! I just thought we should bring rope as a precaution if anypony was stuck at the bottom of a ravine."
"Silly Twilight. If that happened, we could just build a pony ladder. Ooh, I've always wanted to be part of a pony ladder! Can we build a pony ladder? Can we? Can we?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head and laughed. "Pinkie Pie, you're so random."
"Twilight Sparkle, this is a very pleasant surprise," Zecora the Zebra exclaimed, "It's been awhile since you've appear before my eyes. Oh, and I see you have brought your friends; wait out here, I will bring out tea of my special blend."
"Thanks Zecora. We've been walking for quite some time."
The Zebra entered her hut, leaving the six ponies with the partially finished masks laid on the grass.
"Maybe I should also ask Zecora about her homeland. These masks must have some history behind them."
"Twi, hun, maybe you should focus on one subject at a time."
"Ugh, they're soooo tacky. I hope the finished product will look a little better."
"Pinkie Pie!" Twilight shouted, "Don't wear them!"
"Grr! I am a big mean monster! Grr!"
"Fluttershy, get out from under that rock! You'll ruin your mane!"
"Rainbow Dash! Not you too!"
"Sorry Zecora for breaking your masks," Twilight apologized, giving Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash a dark glare. The pink Earth Pony was still wearing the remains.
"Do not fret, do not fear. There are no hard feelings here."
The six ponies and Zebra sat around a large table, sipping tea.
Rarity could not understand why Twilight enjoyed Zecora's "special blend" so much. It was bitter and tasted of sour grass. Manners were, however, what separated a lady from the rift-raft and Rarity had enough tact to appear to enjoy herself. Rainbow Dash and Applejack did not have the control Rarity held and each sip they took created a new disgusted face. If Zecora noticed, she didn't show it.
"So Twilight, is there something you need to know?"
"Well, why yes. How did--"
"My dear Twilight, it is obvious. You always must make you knowledge grow."
Twilight blushed as Rainbow Dash snickered. One glare from Rarity silenced the light blue Pegasus, who took a quick swig of her tea and turned green.
"Well I was wondering if you knew any history on the Everfree Forest."
"Plant life I know as well as the way to go but history is knowledge I do not hold."
"Oh," Twilight mumbled, crestfallen, "well, sorry to bother you."
Zecora's ears drooped at the sight of Twilight's sadness.
"If you seek history, go to the palace of old. There are stories there that have never been told."
Twilight's mood picked up immediately. " Have you been there before?"
Zecora nodded and said, "There were symbols I did not understand, but then again, I am not from this land.
"In addition, there is something beyond the castle place; beyond turrets, the hall, and the gates."
All eyes were on Zecora, including a light purple pair belonging to a certain mare with a multicolored mane. Inside, Zecora was proud; she always had the gift of a dramatic storyteller. Perhaps it was the rhymes.
"Animals avoid the place I speak, as do plants, when they can. The Sun itself seems to avoid the land. When I was young and had gotten lost, I found the place at a cost. Such a place may hold the knowledge that you seek."
At this, the six ponies moved in closer. Zecora became solemn.
"Before my eyes was a giant tree. A tree that lived, a tree that spoke. This I am sure for, though I just a filly. This I assure you, this is no joke."
"Are little zebras also called 'fillies'?"
"The tree spoke not with words, but with emotions and feelings and thoughts. What the tree showed me, I wish it did not.
"Do not ask what it showed me, I will not, cannot say. I am still haunted to this very day. My spirit crushed, heart was broken. If only the tree had not spoken
"So, my little ponies, if you choose to go, beware: who knows what that tree will say to you if you venture near..."