Twilight gasped in shock. “It’s you!” she accused with wide eyes, pointing her hoof at Zecora.
The mare nodded. “Yes, it is.”
“Twilight?” Applejack asked in confusion, the rest of her friends looking between her and Zecora in confusion.
Twilight glanced at Applejack, then back at Zecora. “Was Zecora even real?” she asked.
The mare giggled, the sound like chimes in the wind. “Zecora is very real, and is currently allowing me to speak to you through her. It is a subconscious permission though, as her conscious mind melding with mine would be… disastrous.”
“But… why?” Twilight asked. “Is it already happening? Whatever it is you sent me here for?”
The mare sighed. “I wish it were not so, but the -” her mouth moved, but no sound came out. “- seems to have set his sights on Equestria specifically, drastically advancing the timeline.”
Twilight blinked. “Say that again, please? I didn’t quite catch it,” she requested.
The mare shook her head. “It is through no fault of your own, Soul of Hope. As your Princesses may tell you, the higher up on the food-chain you are, the more you will find yourself restrained by rules and regulations. I am bending the rules as it is appearing to you now. The powers that be are actively suppressing anything else I try to say or do.”
Twilight frowned. “What can you tell us?”
The mare smiled. “The prophecy Zecora spoke to summon me is the extent of the information I am able to grant you. The summoning itself was to insure you did not dismiss said prophecy.”
Twilight sighed. “I suppose cryptic riddles are better than nothing,” she mumbled.
The rainbow coloring in the mare’s eyes started to fade. She smiled at Twilight. “Worry not, Soul of Hope. With your friends there to guide you, you will reignite the Light in the Darkness.”
“No pressure,” Pinkie said with a grin.
Twilight noticed the dimming colors. “Is something wrong?” she asked in concern.
The mare shook her head. “I have simply reached the end of my time limit. To stay any longer would both undoubtedly break the rules, and cause great harm to this mage.” And with a final breath, the mare closed her eyes and breathed out.
When those eyes opened again, it was to the more familiar tones of Zecora. “I…” she rubbed her forehead. “What happened?” she asked.
“I think we all want that answer,” Applejack said, looking at Twilight.
“What you just saw is the being that turned Clark Kent into a Hero Soul after he died,” Twilight stated without preamble after everyone settled within Zecora’s hut. “I don’t know what, exactly, she is. I imagine a goddess of some kind, maybe even THE Goddess, or maybe she is just a simple divinity whose responsibility is the maintenance of the Hero Soul system. I don’t know.”
“How do you know her?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Remember when I had my mental breakdown shortly after awakening my memories?” Everyone nodded to Twilight’s question. “The solution was to bridge the gap between Twilight Sparkle and Clark Kent’s memories. I had to do some literal soul searching, and found the memory of her turning me into the Soul of Hope before she reincarnated me here in Equestria.”
“...I don’t remember that,” Fluttershy offered after a moment of thought.
Applejack shook her head. “Can’t rightly say I do either.”
Applebloom yawned, and her head slowly drifted down on Applejack’s back. “Ah… don’t really understand it myself,” she muttered.
Applejack glanced out the window to judge the time. “It’s alright, ‘Bloom. Don’t make much sense to me either,” she said, deciding she should probably be getting her sister home. “Ready to head home?”
“Do we have to?” Applebloom whined. “Zecora’s so cool! And so is her magic!”
Applejack chuckled, remembering Zecora mentioning a few of the things she could do on their walk back. “I won’t deny that. Her Alchemy almost sounds like magical cooking.” She looked at her friends, old and new. “I should be getting Applebloom home. She has a busy day ahead of her tomorrow,” she said. She nodded her head to Zecora. “Remember, you’re an Apple now. If you need anything, even just an ear to talk off, yer welcome at the farm. We will, at the very least, listen.”
Zecora smiled a bit bigger. “And I consider it an honor. Thank you.” She pointed at Applebloom. “Remember that her poultice must be changed every evening before she sleeps. When she sleeps is when the magic will work most efficiently. She will also feel the urge to sleep off and on for a few days. Be mindful of that if you find her napping.” she reminded the farm pony.
Applejack nodded her head and made for the door.
As the friends began making their way outside, Applejack looked at the trees, or rather their branches, and a had a thought. “He ‘Bloom, fancy taking the express way home?” she asked.
“Express way?” the filly asked.
Applejack grabbed her hat, reared back, and launched a hoof at a nearby branch, grabbing it and essentially grappling her way to it. She then repeated the process, quickly making her way to another.
They made their way home at speed, Applebloom screaming in glee and Applejack not even hiding her wide grin.
Twilight could only shake her head with a smile as she led her friends down the more mundane path.
Twilight woke up the next day feeling like something was, decidedly, off. After spending five minutes under her covers trying to puzzle it out, she eventually decided that it was unimportant and got up to address her morning routine.
Her feet hit the wooden floor and sent a shiver up her spine. 'Cold,' she thought, stumbling her way to the bathroom. Her hand fumbled with the handle before she pushed the door open, and
"Ow!" Twilight yelped, her hand massaging her head gingerly as she glared at the doorway. She ducked under it and continued.
Once her bathroom activities were complete, only one thing was on her mind now, piercing the haze of her still half-asleep mind.
"Coooffeeeee!" she almost moaned, stumbling down the steps with a hand on the banister. She followed the smell of fresh brewed coffee,
"Yeah, yeah. I know," Spike could be heard in the kitchen. "Give me five minute to finish your pancakes."
Twilight pulled out a chair and sat down. She let her head clonk onto the table, and winced. "Ow," she said again, before frowning. "Wait a second..." she sat up and crossed her eyes, trying to look at her forehead. "Ow?" she asked. "Since when did something like that hurt me?"
Normally she's be more concerned about the door frame and table than her head. But she had categorically failed to harm them accident or not, and had in fact been harmed by them.
Her hands came up and rubber her forehead. She winced. Yep, definitely bruised. After a moment however, several facts clicked in her head at once, instantly banishing her sleepiness. Hands?' her hands flew to her forehead again. "Where's my horn?!" she screeched, shooting to her feet.
Twilight was forced back into her seat, seeing stars. Her head had hit the suddenly much lower ceiling. "Ow..." she groaned, rubbing her head once again.
As Twilight nursed her poor abused skull, one thought drifted through her mind.
"What in the name of Rao is going on?"