Hearth's Warming Helper - Team Corona

by Talon and Thorn

Zecora - The Vizier - by Talon and Thorn

Plunging a hoof into the bag Zecora tried to feel the threads of fate which flowed from this point in time. Although the pony festival was strange to her she appreciated that pure chance would control how things would turn out. Her hoof seemed drawn to a particular token and she lifted it out. She smiled as she recognized the copy of Corona’s cutie mark. Of course, fate couldn’t have led to anything else!

Now she was stuck with attempting to obtain a present for a mare with almost god like powers. For a moment she almost wished that a prophecy would wash over her to tell her what to do... but the universe rarely revealed itself for such trivial matters. Then again sometimes the greatest changes started from the smallest seeds, her choice of gift might end up altering the fate of the whole world.

She knew that the only thing that Celestia truly desired was Equestria itself, and maybe the praises of ponies that lived there, but that would be rather difficult to achieve on such short notice, and also near impossible to wrap. What else could she provide? Her skills in alchemy gave her some options, although there was little magic she could provide that Celestia could not duplicate herself. The queen had shown some interest in various artefacts from her original reign, she had recently been extremely pleased to obtain a set of shoes although to Zecora they looked rather uncomfortable. However, she didn’t know where she could find any such item in the few days she had available.

Maybe it would be better to try and pass the duty of getting a present for Celestia to another member of the court? She glanced over at Kindle, the red stallion did not look happy with his own destiny at the moment and would no doubt desire to give Celestia a present. She shook her head. Fate had lead her down this path as it had shaped her whole life and as much as she would have loved to abdicate her responsibility to another she was bound to her own destiny.

She would trust herself to fate to find a suitable gift, she could go to the nearby pony settlement, Hope Hollow, she thought it was called and see if anything drew her attention. She would have to be careful, the existence of a Zebra in the small settlement would no doubt draw attention and require an explanation she did not want to have to give. There were ways she could disguise herself, but none were perfect, hopefully a thick cloak alone would suffice and not draw too much attention.

Zecora clutched her cloak tighter and tried to stop shivering, around her a gaggle of similarly dressed ponies passed by without paying the slightest bit of attention. At least the cloak was serving one of its functions, she thought bitterly. She really wasn’t used to this climate, it wasn’t, as some believed, that her home land was totally without snow, many of the most sacred peaks were above the snowline and she’d visited several of them during her apprenticeship. It was that she wasn't used to it being so cold for so long, it seemed that half the year here in Equestria was dominated by great masses of the white crystals covering everything. They were nice to look at for a short time but her poor hooves didn’t enjoy spending all day tramping through them.

If she’d really thought about it there were several potions she knew which would have reduced her discomfort, but they all took time to make. She was just glad that Celestia had set up a teleport gate between her lair and the outskirts of the town so she didn’t have to gallop all the way, she was sure if she’d had to she would have lost a hoof or two to frostbite.

Putting such morbid thoughts aside she tried to pull her mind back to the task at hand, shopping. Despite its comparatively small size Hope Hollow seemed to have a wide range of shops available. There was a bakery, which offered a delicious looking collection of cakes and sweets, a clothing store, a furniture shop, a book shop and many more. It reminded her of some of the great trade cities of Zebrica. Although she had spent most of her time away from civilisation she did enjoy her trips to them, although at home most of the goods were displayed in the street where they could be smelled and investigated easily rather than being locked behind glass. She shook her head, after all that she had done the odds of her ever returning home were slight, she couldn’t afford to get homesick.

Returning her thoughts to the task at hand Zecora once again looked around the street, she was sure that she would be able to find something Celestia would enjoy in one of the shops, she just wasn’t sure which one. After a moments thought she decided to stay with her original plan of letting fate decide on her course and just wandered letting her hooves carry her where they may.

Her first stop was a clothing store, the window displayed a range of dresses and suits. For a moment Zecora considered if an outfit would be suitable for Celestia, the queen rarely wore more than her royal jewellery but she might appreciate something more. Then she shook her head, there would no doubt be some trouble in obtaining clothing for an individual who stood over twice the normal height of a pony, at the very least it would raise some questions she was not willing to answer. Something like a scarf might fit, but the princess of the sun would have no need of something to keep her warm. For a moment Zecora considered procuring one for her own use but instead she shook her head sadly and moved on.

The next stall sold cooked potatoes piled with cheese or beans which looked very attractive to her at the moment, for their heat if not their taste but that was not something she could present to Celestia. It did not seem like the queen would want any furniture either, as shown in the next window. Although the rocky throne Celestia used hardly seemed comfortable the alicorn seemed to possess enough personal padding to survive the experience. Plus it would no doubt be rather hard to bring a new couch back to the lair.

She wasn’t sure if the next building along was even a shop or not. It’s main door was easily large enough to allow a cart to enter and in fact there was such a vehicle standing just inside one of it’s wheels obviously cracked and held up by some sort of jack. However, in addition to the cart there were also various small mechanical contraptions on shelves most of which she did not recognize. Intrigued she cautiously entered the building and was immediately struck by a wave of heat from somewhere near the back which caused her to sigh in pleasure. It appeared that a forge or something similar was present.

Looking around there did not seem to be anypony present, maybe the place wasn’t actually a shop? Or maybe it was closed? “Hello,” she ventured, “is there anyone here? I am visiting your town as a sightseer.”

There was a scuffling sound from the nearby cart and after a few moments a red mane, protected by a spotted scarf emerged from underneath, followed by a grubby, but still mostly yellow coated form of an earth pony mare. “Hello?” the newcomer said once she had scrambled out from under the vehicle. “Can I help you?”

“From afar you door I did spy, and I wondered what was inside. Pray tell, what is it that you sell?” asked Zecora.

The mare cocked her head to one side. “Is it me, or are you talking funny?” she asked bluntly.

With a sigh Zecora pulled back her hood to reveal her striped face, she should probably get this over with now. “You need not fear, it is just that I am not from around here.”

The mare looked her over cautiously. “A Zebra huh, don’t see many of your kind around here.”

Zecora tried not to grimace, at least this pony had actually heard of her species. It seemed like many in Equestria hadn’t even heard of her people, despite their civilisation stretching back far further than Equestria itself. “Not many of my people roam this far from our home,” she admitted.

The mare seemed to consider this, then nodded. “Fair enough, I’m Torque Wrench,” she held out a rather oily looking hoof. Zecora paused for a moment then shook it.

“Zecora is my name,” she announced, “May I ask what is your game?”

“My game? What I do? Fix things mostly, farming equipment, tools, the odd cart,” she gestured to where she had previously been lying. “Keeping busy you know.”

“And the rest of the things in your store? What are they for?” she gestured at the various devices cluttering the shelves.

“Them? Most of them are just knick knacks really,“ Torque looked embarrassed, “a few experiments I’ve tried out over the years, most of them don’t work all that well. This one,” she gestured to a pile of gears with a short metal spike sticking out, “is for toasting bread, and that one,” she picked up a small mechanical pony, “well this is a toy, it can do backflips,” she prodded at it and it made a few clicking sounds but didn’t move, “well when it works.” She put the model back. “I guess you don’t have much like this at home?”

“My people are not entirely without technology to help us work, although I will admit we have no great skill with clockwork.” Ponies tended to think of her own people as little more than barbarians despite their advanced civilisation and magic.

“Sorry,” said Torque blushing a little. “I didn’t mean to insult you. I just, well, sorry. Anyway is there anything you’re looking for?”

“I am looking for a present for a friend, is there anything you would recommend?” asked Zecora, glad to get the conversation back on track.

“I don’t really know, I’ve never really thought of these as gifts, I don’t sell many. How about this?” She pointed to a complex series of pipes with a small fire box attached. “It’s a self warming hoof wash.”

Zecora looked at the device with a little jealousy, that sounded heavenly right now but was less useful in a lair built on a volcano. “Although that sounds quite sweet, I don’t think my friend will need any help with heat.”

“Hum, maybe a quad of roller skates? Or a gramophone?” said Torque going from shelf to shelf and pointing out various potential presents.

Zecora followed her as she went until her gaze fell on a wooden box about the size of a pony’s head from which a loud ticking could be heard. Sticking out from it were two arms one bearing a miniature sun and the other a moon. “And this one? Why does it have images of the sun?” she asked.

“That? That’s my sunless sundial,” she trotted over and ran a hoof over the contraption. “This thing tells you where the sun and moon should be in the sky at any time of year, accurate to the second! At least it should be...” she glanced around as if to check if someone was watching, “the princess doesn’t always hit the published time.”

Zecora couldn’t help but smile at that. “Well although your princess may be worthy of respect, she is far from perfect. Still building this device is quite the feat, there must be few who can your skills beat.”

“Thank you, it took most of a year on and off to build. I like to hear it when I’m working. Tick leads to tock which leads on to tick again, it’s sort of comforting to think that everything's so ordered.” She blushed a little. “Sorry, I’m being silly.”

“No,” said Zecora, “It is nice to think that time has but one furrow, one path through which it can flow. Still I hope that destiny can in fact be bent, so that down another path it can be sent as long as you can influence the right event. So that a future once foreseen does not have to befall my queen.”

“Queen? What do you mean?” she blinked, “You’ve got me rhyming now.”

“I must apologise,” said Zecora quickly, hoping to distract Torque from the slip of her tongue. “I did not mean you such a curse, still there are others that are so much worse. Now this device is pleasing to my eye, how much would it be to buy?” She gestured at the clock it seemed a good present for Celestia, it would help her with her royal duties and represented the inevitability of destiny.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure if I want to sell it really,” Torque bit her lip.

“Please I think it may be the perfect gift, my friends mood I am sure it would uplift.”

“She’d really like this thing?” asked Torque running a hoof over the casing.

“She has great fun with anything relating to the sun,” she explained, “so please how much would I have to pay to be able to take this away?”

“Well I guess the parts did cost quite a bit, but it’s certainly nice to have someone appreciate my work. Sometimes I feel like nopony really notices me, they just expect me to fix their stuff when it breaks but not to actually want to do more,” her tail flicked in frustration. “Tell you what, I’ll let you have it for cost, say two thousand bits!”

Zecora raised an eyebrow, she didn’t entirely understand the Equestrian currency but she knew that was quite a lot. Still she’d spent most of the last year living in a dragon’s lair, money wasn’t exactly an issue “If I did not purchase it at that price I would be a fool, tell me,” she brought out a bag from under her cloak, “do you accept jewels?” She had gotten used to carrying various gems with her in case Spike had wanted a snack. The thought of the small dragon brought on an unexpected wave of nostalgia, she wondered where he was now. Was he warm? Was he celebrating this festival as well?

“Wow, er, yeah sure,” said the earth pony staring at the pouch. “So do you want it wrapped?”

The clock was heavy and Zecora was glad she didn’t have to carry it very far to the teleport to take it back to the lair. For a moment she paused and wondered if it was a good gift for Celestia or not.

She hoped the queen would not consider it an insult, in some way criticizing her timing of raising and lowering the sun. Only a few months ago the alicorn might have blown into a rage at even the suggestion of such an implication but since Tambolin her emotions had stabilized and such tantrums were now almost unknown. She would hopefully accept the present in the spirit it was given, as a tribute to her power and as a representation of the immutability of fate.

That what was going to happen could not be stopped.

That thought did not give Zecora any peace.

After all, it was her blessing, and curse, to alone know what was coming and to not be able to change it one bit.