Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate

by Sprocket Doggingsworth


Great Expectations

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT- GREAT EXPECTATIONS
“We need the sweet pain of anticipation to tell us we are really alive.” - Albert Camus





Life on the open sea, by all logic and reason, should be miserable. It's months and months of burning sun, and freezing winds, and slimy, back breaking work with no hot baths at the end of the day to clear the salt from your itchy mane. But Pinkbeard wouldn't have it any other way.

And while much of her crew bemoans the cruelty of their chores, most of them would also still hold true to their own fates, and to their captain, even if given a thousand other lives to choose from.

I always envied that about pirates. Connected to it. Their drive. Their vigor. Their sense of purpose. Of self.

“I am what I am what I am.” As Pinkbeard herself once said.

But I really didn't have the words to express why it resonated with me so strongly. Until I read book seven. The one where you find out that Gash - the swashbuckling warrior with two eye patches and three wooden legs - actually started out as a runaway rich kid.

On her first voyage, Gash wasn’t accustomed to swabbing decks, and peeling potatoes, and having her two spare sets of fancy shoes stolen by a slippery old octopus with dreams of making it big as a professional tap dancer.

So she cried. A lot. She cried and she cried and she cried and she cried and she cried. That is, until she confided in Slop, the ship's mess cook. Asked him directly how anypony managed to bear such a miserable day, and still have enough joy left in their hearts to laugh and sing through the night when their work was done. The way pirates do.

It turned out that the whole crew was made up of runaway sailors from the evil East Equestria Trading Company, which had made them all work just as hard, but didn't share any of its booty with them. Like, none at all. The pirate crew didn't mind a little hardship ‘cause they had never ever dreamt of a life free from toil. They dreamt of a better kind of toil. Hardship with dignity. Purpose.

“Anticerpation,” the mess cook said in his unique accent that nopony could place. “Is what makes a bloke unhappy. Not achin’ bones. The sooner you get the idea outta yer head that pitchin’ in is some manner o’ cosmic injustice, the happier ye'll be.”

And it really stuck with me, you know? The idea that, once you had all your basic needs met, anticerpation was the sole decider over whether or not you were gonna freak out, or instead be, like, totally chill, and kinda happy. Pirate happy.

* * *

I hadn't realized it during my trek through the forest, but I'd let anticerpation get the best of me. Cranky had warned me about an hour before not to get my hopes up. Not to expect a quick fix. Not to expect a fix at all! And I’d flat out told myself that I shouldn't go looking for any kind of miracle.

But somewhere along the line, my hopes and dreams and fears had all gotten built up real high, and come to tangle themselves with my anticipation of this one meeting with Zecora. And no amount of logic or reason was gonna untangle them.

So when I finally got close to Zecora's little oasis - when I actually breathed the air and smelt the musky fumes of magic brew emanating from her home, I just stood there, utterly speechless as all the feelings and stuff that I’d thought I’d gotten under control suddenly crashed out of my heart, and flooded into my brain. I was left instead with an empty skull, and only one articulate thought rattling around the inside of it. A strange fascination with the plain wooden door embedded in the trunk of Zecora's tree.

All you have to do is knock on it. One of my Rose Voices said to me. Just walk over there and knock on it. A teeeeeeny tiny little rap of a hoof, and your long, long, looooong wait to seek Zecora’s counsel will finally be over!

For better or worse.

“Hay, whatcha waiting for?” Cranky nudged me. “We ain't got all day.”

“Ahh!” I stumbled forward. Snapped out of my stupor. Caught my breath. Got my bearings.

Cliff Diver and Cranky were standing behind me. Waiting.

There were only so many daylight hours before we had to turn around and head back. We all had homes to get back to, family to answer to, lies to tell about where we had been.

This is no time for thinkiness. I said to myself.

With a hardened resolve, I marched right up to the door and knocked on it. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. ‘Till at last, the door swung open, and I found myself up-close-and-personal with the five million rings around Zecora's neck.

The very first thing to pop into my brain was to wonder: how does anypony take those things on and off?!

Then I realized that I was staring. And my brain stopped dead. Like a squirrel in mortal terror, afraid to make the next move.

“Uh...uh...uh…” I said again and again and again.

‘Till finally, Cranky cleared his throat. “Ahemummum.” He said. And the sound snapped me out of my trance.

"Hello." I said at last. "Uhh...My name's Rose Petal. I'm here because I really, really need your help. At least I think I do. I'm not sure. See, I keep travelling to different duckies in my dreams. And now a bunch of evil has followed me home, and there's sooo much trouble and stuff going on inside my brain that I can't do music anymore, and I'm scared that the evil is gonna climb inside my hoof and kill me. And this zebra I met - you know, like, in my dream - he told me that zebras know about...this sorta thing." Then to my horror, I realized that I'd made a huge generalization. So I scrambled to correct myself. “Not all zebras! I mean I know you all don't, like, automatically know about this sorta thing. But I figured that you might. 'Cause you know a lot of stuff...And that's a good thing!

“And by the way, I'm really really really really sorry for being scared of you before. You know back when you used to come to our town, and we'd all run and hide? Like, I know you get along okay with Ponyville now, but I never got to apologize one-on-one, and I feel really really bad about it. So...um...yeah. How are you?”

Zecora raised a single eyebrow at me. Then glanced over my shoulder.

"Don't look at me." Cranky said. "I just led the kid through the forest."

Finally, the zebra knelt down. Eye level with me. The kinda thing you do when talking to small foals. "Don't be afraid." She said. "Come inside. / I will listen. You confide."

Zecora's house was surprisingly warm (on account of the big fat cauldron bubbling in the center of it). So I started tearing off my hat and coat in a hurry. As soon as I set hoof inside.

“I've been meaning to check in with you myself.” Cranky said. “That is, if you don't mind.”

Zecora scrunched her nose up at Cranky. “Don't you think I’ve given you pardon / for when you puked and ruined my garden.”

I snickered. Got distracted. Ended up getting my scarf tangled in the sleeve of my coat.

“Engggh! Enggggh!” I said as I struggled to squirm out of it.

“Yeah, awfully sorry about that.” Cranky replied. “But there's something going on right now much bigger than you or me. I'm not sure you know this, but there was a blizzard back in Ponyville the other day. Didn't touch the forest at all. I think it was the --;”

“Cranky!” Zecora snapped. Giving him the eyeballs of a gazillion daggers. “I could forgive your acting drunk and wild / but you know better than to speak of...such things…” She looked back-and-forth conspiratorially. “...in front of a child.”

While they were arguing, I flipped on my back, and took to rolling all over the place to try to kick all my stupid winter shit off.

“Arrrrggg!” I said, ever so gracefully. “Arrrrr.”

“We already know!” Cliff exclaimed in Cranky's defense. “We dealt with the shadows before we even met Cranky! Right, Rose?”

“Mmmmpph!” I replied. But the zebra wasn't hearing it.

Zecora snorted aggressively through her nostrils. Glowered at Cranky. “I’ve always known that you were gruff and sour.” She tsked and shook her head. “...But frightening children just gives darkness power!”

“He helped me.” I said, finally managing to push the scarf aside with my tongue. “Honest!”

And I tried to be as firm as possible. As adult as possible. As persuasive. But it just so happened that I was stuck on my back like a newborn foal. Squirming all over the place. Entangled in my own jacket, spitting scarf wool off of my tongue - all at the same time. “Pleh! Pleh! Pleh! Pleh! Pleh!”.

Zecora bent down and lent a hoof. Without judgments. Without words.

With a little bit of help, the boots popped off. One by one by one. ‘Till fwoosh. The coat and scarf at long last slid off with them. And I was left lying on my back. Cringing. Using my newly liberated hooves to cover my face in embarrassment.

"Thanks," I muttered into my hooves.

But the Zecora didn't answer. Like, at all. So I peeked out from behind my forehoof, and saw that the zebra was frozen in place, irises shrunk to the size of pinpoints, staring at me in horror.

“What?” I scrambled to my hooves. “What is it?!"

And of course, Zecora's eyes followed, well...my hooves. She was staring at my evil hoof.

"Oh," I said. "Yeah. That's why I'm here. Or part of why I'm here anyway."

"I've never seen anything like it." She said, breaking from her normal rhyme and rhythm.

"You haven't?" I squeaked, suddenly mortified. What if I'd come all that way for nothing?! "I thought zebras were supposed to know about this stuff."

I thought back to the zebra in the future. The medic in Colonel Wormwood's camp. He had told me all about it. How he'd read up on the shadow hoof condition. How it was not just a way for the inky evil-majigs to get at me. But also a way for me to strike back at them. How they were actually scared of me.

Zecora shook her head.

"Well, have you at least heard of it? Read about it? Because Cranky knows! From old blues legends. And carnies and travelers and stuff."

"Well, maybe a little." Cranky mumbled bashfully.

“Wait!” Cliff interrupted. “You're the one who's got all those blues records?” Cliff's eyes turned to stars that sparkled out a billion shiny lights.

Up until that point, I'd figured that it’d been really fucking obvious where I'd gotten the records from, but the truth was, I had never actually told Cliff.

“Do you have any more Badwing?” Cliff exclaimed. “Ooh! What about--;”

“Kid.” Cranky said. And rather than finish that thought, he just pointed at me. Then at Zecora. Reminding Cliff Diver of where we were. What we were supposed to be doing. Cliff blushed a little in reply.

Meanwhile, I was busy getting into a wrestling match with my own hazy memories. And beating them into submission until they gave up their brain secrets.

What had the future zebra said about my condition again? He had likened the shadows’ touch to the darkness in a zebra's stripes. A part of yourself that you need to embrace in order to be whole. He’d advised me not to think of my shadow hoof as a weakness, but as a weapon against evil itself.

I remembered that much! But most of my memory was pretty vague after that. I could only conjure up the feeling I'd had in his presence. The realization that I was not alone. That my black hoof was not a freak anomaly. That it had a fucking name…

“Wait!” I cried aloud suddenly. “There's a word for it!”

But my brain stopped right there. Refused to tell me what the word actually was.

"Tamuk,” I said to myself. “Takumbo, Tumaka. Tumakalaka’kumbhu."

Zecora tapped her hoof and looked at me sourly.

“Tamakuka,” I continued. “Mukata, Tukambo…”

She cleared her throat all impatient-like.

“Wait wait!” I said. “I almost got it! Takma, Tumbakalakalaka…Ta...Ta…Ta...Ta...”

As Zecora stared at me longer and harder and irritated-ly-er, it slowly occurred to me that, until I could remember the actual word, I was really just standing there like an asshole, mumbling gibberish. Mocking her native language.

Ah!” I shrieked. “Sorry!”

Zecora rolled her eyes and knelt down beside me. Proffered a stripey leg.

It took me a minute to realize that she wasn't mad at me. But eventually, I flashed her an awkward little smile. And put my hoof in hers.

She handled it gently. Leaned in close-like. Smelt it. Tapped it ever so fucking delicate-like. Treated me like I was made out of hard tortillas, and any minute now, I would collapse in on my own shell and shatter into a million tiny pieces.

“Arg. It doesn't hurt!” I grumbled.

And my stomach grumbled with me. Because now I wanted tortillas!

Zecora patted my hoof. Looked up at me with her big, kind eyeballs. But they were distracted eyeballs. Drifting ever downward. Focusing intently on me. Not just the hoof. But me. My chest specifically, though who could guess why?

Oh, Luna! I said to myself. What does she know? Why does she keep staring at my chest?! Is the inky evilness already spreading to my heart like Blackhoof's?! Am I doomed? What if I’m condemned to fade away? Slip into the darkness? Die of cardio-shadow poisoning?!

“What?” I said. “What is it?”

“Relax,” the zebra replied. “There's no need for alarm / I will not let you come to any harm.”

“Thanks.” I said.

“Tell her about falling out of the song.” Cliff called out. Totally out of nowhere. Trying to be helpful.

And in his own way, he kinda was helpful. ‘Cause I totally woulda forgotten to bring up the musical number had he not mentioned it.

But Zecora was still obsessing over my hoof. And he was distracting her. So she got up off her knee and approached Cliff, direct-like.

"It's clear you're quite devoted as a friend.” She said. “And Rose will need your help before day's end. / I have a special favor I must ask / A simple but essential kind of task."

"Uh...sure." Cliff squeaked as he talked. "But uhhhhhh..." He shrunk back. Ears flattened like one of those dogs that hides under furniture, afraid of the world. "I'm not very good at...you know...doing stuff. Are you sure that I should be the one to--;"

"Not far from here you'll find a bonfire pit." Zecora cut him off before he could tear himself down any harder. "Just sit and wait and keep a fire lit."

"That's all?" Cliff whimpered.

It made me sad to see him so intimidated. So afraid. He was always bold when it came to his wacky theories, and he’d stood by me so bravely and unrelenting-like during my shadow mess, that I'd all but forgotten about the shy, friendless kid that Diamond Tiara had picked on just a few weeks before.

The boy who thought he'd never be good at anything.

“Hey, you know how to build a fire, don't you, kid?" Cranky got straight to the point.

Cliff sorta shrugged. "Weeell..."

"Come on," Cranky said dryly. "I'll teach you."

"Thanks." Cliff breathed a sigh of relief.

The old donkey put a hoof on the colt's shoulder and led him outside. But before their tails were even all the way out, Cranky called back to Zecora.

"We still gotta talk about that blizzard." He said grouchily.

And at that, the door swung shut. Leaving Zecora and I alone together. I smiled and waved my evil hoof 'hello' at her. Like an idiot.

And she just stood there. Studying me carefully.

Don't blow it! One of my Rose Voices said to me.

"So, uh...what do you need a bonfire for?" I asked. Gesturing with my face at the great big old cauldron fire already burning right there in the center of her house.

"Some herbs it's best to burn beneath the sky and over rocks. / I would not burn these in my home; they smell like filthy socks."

I snorted out a chuckle. While she got busy using her teeth to wrap up a bundle of dried leaves in some sack cloth.

"If they stink, then why burn them?” I pressed her. Roseluck had only ever burnt herbs as a kinda incense. “Is it like...a magic thing? You know, for like...a great big spell you're gonna do on me? Or is it, I dunno...medicinal, maybe? Or to keep away bugs or something?" I added, running down the list of uses that herb smoke could possibly have. "No, wait. It's Winter. There are no bugs in Winter. Unless...are there special Everfree bugs? Made out if ice magic or someth--;"

Fwomp!

Zecora crammed her hoof in my mouth to shut me up. Everyone does that to me eventually.

"Mmmmmmmm m mmm mm mmm mm." I said, trying at first, to babble through her hoof. But the hoof wouldn't give up, and eventually, my mouth took the fucking hint, and simmered down to a soft mumble.

That's when Zecora leaned over at long last. Looked me square in my eye, super close-like. 'Till she was sure she had my undivided attention.

"Relax." The zebra said to me with a reassuring smile. “We have much to do. / But not before you warm up with some brew."

I nodded.

And Fweck. Zecora slid her hoof out of my mouth. She wandered off to go fuss around with a mug and a pot and the fire and whatnot. Doing...I dunno...zebra stuff. I was busy getting off the damn floor and shaking some sense into myself.

For fuck's sake, my Rose Voice said to me. You didn't come all this way just to act like an idiot.

Knock it off. Snapped another voice.

Yeah! Yet Another Voice chimed in. She's never gonna help you if you can't even tell her why. You're. Here.

"But why am I here?!" I said right back.

'Cause, for all my fancy reasoning about only journeying there for answers and stuff - for all the brain juggling I'd done just an hour-and-a-half before, (when Cranky’d asked me the same damn question) - I still didn't know why the hell I was there. Not really. Not in a way that I could put into words.

"You tell me why you came here.” Zecora answered.

"Ahh!" I shrieked in alarm, interrupting the zebra before she even had a chance to rhyme.

I couldn't believe I had said that last part out loud!

“I’m not the one you need to fear." The zebra retorted, both completing her rhyme and reacting to my irrational shrieks at the same time!

It caught me off guard. Made me stop freaking out. Got me wondering. Did she...like...poetrize on the fly? Or plan out all her verses before she said them? Was it possible that she knew what I was gonna say before I said it? Or was there some alternate end to the rhyme that I'd never get to hear?

I smiled back at her. Politely. Feeling like a total jerk for freaking out in the first place. "I'm sorry." I said. "You startled me."

Zecora pointedly ignored my apology. Gestured to a massive root sticking up out of the ground that she'd fashioned into a chair - cushions and all. She set a clay mug down on a little wooden ledge that jutted over it - a kitchen table of sorts. This place wasn't at all like the treebrary back home, which pretty much looked as though a bunch of ponies had decorated a hollowed out tree. Zecora’s “house” felt as though the tree itself had kept growing loooong after its trunk went hollow. Like it had warped over time to accommodate its caretaker. The kinda symbiosis that we ponies don't even get out of our trees.

In the wild Everfree, no less! Where every plant, every mutant poison squirrel, and every eyeball-floating-in-the-darkness was supposedly feral - stewarded by nopony at all.

I picked myself up off the ground and made my way over. Smiling. Thanking her the whole way. I climbed up onto the root chair, and cupped the mug with both hooves. Blew on it. Studied it carefully.

The brew smelt really good. Even through all of the distracting aromas that the cauldron was kicking up into the air, it still smelt sweet. Familiar. I studied it carefully. Once my breath parted the steam, I saw little miniature flowers floating on top of the water, and knew the brew for what it was.

"Rosebud tea?” I said.

“I do not know what you had been expecting," she said. “But you should drink instead of just dissecting.”

Thinkiness. Zecora had my number. So I trusted her. Did as I was told. Even though a thousand questions were already struggling furiously to reach the surface like drowning pirates fighting against their chains.

“Shut up, thought pirates.” I whispered to myself.

And focused on the tea. The warmth. The smell. The feeling of home. I closed my eyes and let my tongue analyze the flavor. The sweet nectar that touched my tongue first. The floral notes that seemed to rise up out of my throat after I'd swallowed some. And everything in between. I figured if my mind had to dissect something, it might as well be that.

As plans go, it worked pretty well. Before I knew it, the mug was empty, and I wasn't sure if it had taken a minute or an hour to drink it. I looked to Zecora, who sat across the “table” from me, forelegs folded, waiting patiently for me to be ready.

“I dream.” My own voice said, though my brain had had no part in finding the words. “I dream, and it takes me to other places - other times...”

* * *

The whole story spilled out. Well, maybe not the whole thing. I danced around the apocalypse, and the wars, and wastelands that the future held. Focused on all the stuff that’d happened to me personally, and omitted all the historical context. And that was okay.

Zecora even said so herself. “Just show me what you think you need to show.” She’d said when she first saw me struggling to remain discreet. “The future is not always mine to know.”

So I rambled only about the parts that I thought might matter. The shadow parts. The encounter in the tunnels. The memories that the shadowmajigs had invaded. My struggle to get them out of my hoof. Out of my head. Out of my life.

I told her about Twink. And about grief. About the wave of ink and cold and fear that had tried to drag me into that great big evil castle. I shared Colonel Wormwood's advice. The words that’d set me free. “Find your light and fight like Hell to get to it.”

I told her about the Pit of Infinite Duckies, and the visions, and my fear - my certainty - that the shadows were coming back. I told her about the challenges that Cliff had faced the night of the blizzard. And Roseluck too. I told her about everyone except for Foster and Screw Loose, whose secrets were their own.

And after it’d all gushed out at last, there came a silence. A calm inside my head that not even my Rose Voices could manage to fuck up. ‘Cause I knew in that moment why I had come to Zecora.

“Teach me.” I said. “Please.”

Zecora reached across the table. Put my hoof in hers. My bad hoof. Even though she knew nothing about my condition. Even though she knew everything about the kinda bad news that the shadow monsters were. She touched me without fear.

“Child, I feel for you,” she said. “But can't discern / Just what it is you feel you have to learn.”

“To fight the shadows.”

“My answer then,” she replied without a moment's hesitation. “Is a simple no. / I cannot teach what you already know.”

A little smile formed at the corners of her cheeks. I smiled back. Blushed a little. But I knew that her confidence in me was only half-earned. There was a lot more to the shadow problem than she thought.

“They're getting stronger.” I said softly. “It's not just the blizzard. There's a chasm deep in the desert. Full of evil shadow mist and stuff. And before you say, like, there will always be darkness or something, this. Isn't. About. Balance. That chasm? It's new. It's growing. It wasn't there a hundred years ago. Even though the shadows have had that castle for a thousand years.”

Zecora scrunched up her forehead so hard that her face stripes got all zig zaggitty. As if to say, How the fuck do you know that?

“Amelia Mareheart's lost journal confirmed it!” I answered before she even got the chance to rhyme me a question. “She disappeared like...a hundred years ago on a dangerous flight mission, and fell into the void. She landed in that dusty red desert in between worlds - the one with the purple skies. And she wrote detailed notes about the whole area before she died. Please. Believe me! It’s changing.”

Then there’s the Inquisitor!” I leapt up out of my seat. “One of the castle's most sadistic torturers went rogue, and they're here. At large. In Equestria. Right now!”

I panted so hard, I had to stop ranting for a minute just to catch my breath.

“And...you would risk life as their prisoner / to hunt and stop this grand inquisitor?” Zecora said to me. There was iron in her voice. She stared me down hard. Like Colonel Wormwood used to whenever she wanted information.

It made my heart skip a beat. Fuck. Was she testing me to see if I was ready? Prepared to fully embrace the gravity of what I was saying, and all of its consequences? Or was she doing just the opposite? Finding out if I was reckless. Prepping myself to try something truly crazy that she disapproved of?

I bit my lip, all nervous-like. My reply could determine whether or not she was gonna help me! But no matter how I tossed it around my head, I couldn't figure out what to say. ‘Cause I had no real idea what the right answer was!

So I got a bad case of the brain panic. I fretted and I fretted and I fretted and I fretted and I fretted. Until at last, I realized that I had only one option open to me. I held up my head up proudly. And I told the plain honest truth.

“If something...shadowy happened, and I never even tried to stop it,” my voice quivered, even as I struggled to wear my bravest face. “...If I never even tried,” I squeaked. Panted. Shook my head in horror at the very idea. “I couldn't live with myself.”

My eyes drifted to the floor. Staring in silent shame over moral failings that hadn't even happened yet.

The zebra replied with firm conviction. “You take too much upon your aching heart. / I cannot teach you if you fall apart. / To master life in dream worlds, you must know / yourself in this world. As above mirrors below.”

Her words stunned me into silence. Clobbered me like a megaspell bomb. Not just ‘cause the chances of her teaching me were getting slimmer and slimmer with every word that passed my stupid lips - not just the idea that, after all my anticerpation, I wasn't gonna learn a damn thing - but first and absolute foremost, I fell quiet ‘cause Zecora was right. My life ‘above the dream world’ was falling apart. And I didn't know how to stop it.

“There was a musical number yesterday.” I confessed. “In the town square. And I fell out of the song. I couldn't feel the rhythm. Couldn't hear the music.” I whimpered.

“Cranky said this happens to drifters and rejects and carnies. But yesterday, it happened to me. I flipped out and hurt somepony, and ran away, and almost got eaten by plants ‘till Cranky saved me, and yeah, Pinkie Pie fixed it so the whole town doesn't hate me anymore, but that doesn't mean that I can fix it.

“But I love musical numbers. And I'm afraid, you know? ‘Cause what happens next time? What if I never hear them again? What if I feel left out for the rest of my days? And all of my life above gets destroyed by...like, my life below?!”

Zecora replied gently.

“This world is full of songs we cannot hear.” She said. “A thousand voices heard without the ear. / Every soul and every single stone / Will sing a melody that is its own. / The forests and the towns unite their hearts / In songs exceeding sums of all their parts. / And symphonies evolve as worlds take form, / But all our lives are just a single note performed.”

“Um, what?” I replied.

Zecora rolled her eyes. “Music happens all the time. / And you can learn to listen if you try. / The only songs that you can hear / Align with what it is that you hold dear.”

“Oh,” I said. “So...like...find my light and fight like Hell to get to it?”

Zecora shrugged and nodded.

I stopped for a minute. Thought reeeeeal hard about all the crazy stuff that Zecora had just laid on me. About music being everywhere. About your ability to hear it being directly connected to how in sync you were with its vibes or whatever. And then, like a hammer to the face, it struck me suddenly.

Zecora spoke in rhyme, but that future zebra guy - he hadn't. What if it wasn't a racial characteristic? Or a cultural one? What if the whole rhyming thing simply had to do with all that Music of the Universe stuff?

“Zecora, can I ask you a question?”

She nodded.

“Are you, like, hearing...y’know...lots of musical numbers right now? Songs of rocks and plants and fate and stuff?”

She nodded again.

“But you gotta hold back, right?” I added. “To talk to the rest of us who can't hear any of it.”

She nodded yet again.

“So, like, your constant rhyming...is that...lyrics?”

The zebra smiled slyly, but wouldn't confirm my theory. Or deny it. She simply changed the subject.

“If I teach you, first I have to see / If you can walk inside your head with me. / We'll try an exercise or two / to know if I am right to mentor you.”

Then Zecora turned and tidied up while I sipped my tea dregs. And twittled my hooves.

I'd tell you all about the anticerpationly thoughts that ran wild inside my skull just then, O Book of Magical Stuff That's Happened to Me, but you can pretty much guess what kinda thoughts those were. So there's no need.

I was wrong about all of them anyhow.

What happened next defied all of my anticerpation, and taught me more about fate than I had previously thought it possible to know.