Apple Bloom was, Zecora decided, entirely too eager to learn potions the old fashioned way.
“I am only glad you are safe, my little friend My hut we can rebuild…” She gave a small sigh and shook her head. “...again.”
“Well you said it made things react quickly, so I thought-”
“React it did, and very fast.” She swept some of the debris into a bucket. Thankfully it was really just a few shelves reduced to kindling. She’d learned early on that taking an apprentice required more… precaution. And a forgiving heart. And, sometimes, ear plugs. “It was the catalyst of that blast.” Although, truth be told, she had expected this particular lesson would occur eventually. But she’d taken precautions. Not enough, it seemed, but her hut wasn’t on fire this time. Her mother had been quite cross with little Zecora’s experiments, and a certain zebra filly had learned a healthy respect for phosphor.
Meanwhile the formerly yellow Apple filly tried to wipe the ash from her coat, and succeeded only in smearing it across a rug that had amazingly been unharmed until this point. Zecora doubted any sort of beating would free it, but Rarity had been amazingly adept at removing all sorts of stains from fabric. Her explanation was usually ‘Sweetie Belle’. The little unicorn had also wanted in on these potion classes, but after setting a pot of boiling water on fire, even the normally patient zebra had admitted some things were just not meant to be.
“Ah know, but you said it would take days for that potion to brew! I only put a little in-”
“And the reason it takes so long is for safety’s sake. To alter a recipe on a whim can turn out to be a fatal mistake. That reaction can be very hot, the ingredients we chose were to keep it not.”
“How am Ah supposed to learn all that? Everything mixes with everything and does other things, how do you keep it all straight?”
“Alchemy is a complex art, one you cannot expect to know by heart.” She reached up, bringing a heavy tome down. “Many charms and spells I repeat every day, routine and practice are the truest way.”
"‘A wise mare knows she has much to learn, and mastery you must daily earn’.” Apple Bloom quoted morosely. “Ah just don’t like messin’ up your things as a lesson.”
“Better things than ponies, Apple Bloom. A little mishap will not seal our doom.” And it was true. The ’blast’ had been a little larger than she’d even expected, but the charms to contain it had done their job. Unfortunately the carbon soot was going to need a fair bit of work to clean up. In truth, she’d made sure that the little filly would need to go far beyond her instructions to actually be at risk. And she’d been keeping an eye on her, besides.
“Wolves are outside again.” Apple Bloom muttered, putting her nose against a window to peer at a set of glowing eyes. “It’s the mean one again, I think.”
That was unusual. Most animals fled from loud, strange noises. She’d probably have to chase it off with a few illusions, perhaps a small light show. The youngest member of the Apple family was probably going to be late getting home. Zecora would almost certainly be without her apprentice for several days as Bloom would have to do chores to make up for her lateness, but she wasn’t about to send the little pony out with a predator waiting so close to her hut. And that was only the one.
If it had been the older one, that wouldn’t have been so much of a concern. Zecora had an understanding with the old brute, and he seemed very tolerant of ponies in general. She’d love to know the story behind that, though she couldn’t imagine any timberwolf as a pet. The smaller female, however… it was trouble. If the older was present, a growl could bring her back in line. But Zecora had run across it once before while walking back from Ponyville… and the chase had taken a few years off the back end of her life that no pony was glad to offer. There was malice in the beast. Malice thwarted somehow by the elder, but why it was so interested in her Zecora couldn’t guess. Their mad rush through the forest had scattered much more traditional prey, but for reasons Zecora couldn’t begin to understand, it had followed her exclusively… and then wandered off come daybreak, as if it had utterly forgotten her. And truthfully, it hadn’t been the last time it had come to call on the darker nights.
The wards would hold, though. And if Apple Bloom were to spend the night and the two were to weather the wrath of the rest of the Apple family in the morning, then they’d deal with that fallout when it happened.
Of course, one did not corner an alchemist in their own hut. Professional pride was at stake, and Zecora was having none of it. Her apprentice had places to be, and she hadn’t meant for Bloom’s spirit to take such a blow. A simple effort to repel the beast and they could simply walk right out.
“Get my pestle and make it quick. We’ll not be contained by a beast of log and stick.”
Apple Bloom blinked, looking back at her, then grinned hugely. That was one of the more enjoyable parts of having an apprentice. Someone to show off to who would truly appreciate the talents.
“First,” She began, scooping some willow bark, peppers, and a number of other herbs into a bowl and grinding them together. “We should only make it want to leave us be. To cause it great harm would make us a threat, you see?”
“So we don’t want to actually hurt it, just make it uncomfortable so it knows we aren’t food.” Bloom noted, cheerfully.
“But we must make it stick, so hourglass sand will do the trick.” A large hourglass, filled with pure white sand, was tilted into the bowl.
“Why does it matter if it’s sand-sand or hourglass-sand, again?”
“Essence and intent, is what you must find. One part pain and another part time.”
“So it comes from an hourglass, that makes it… last?” Not a perfect attempt, but an appreciated gesture. Pony speech was so rude at times. Rhyming, or at least attempting to, showed you thought about your words.
“And of course, we must be sure. So what do you recall of the distillation of pure?”
Apple Bloom paused, deep in thought. “‘Metal flake provides essence pure, two parts in gold and silver four. Platinum provides all that plus four, and mythril is all that again twice more’, right?”
“And which of these will we use and why?”
“Silver. Gold’s too expensive, platinum’s worse, and Ah don’t think you even have mythril.”
“If I did, I wouldn’t even try. We’d need to make an entire tub or the waste would be much too high. Silver flake is on the shelf, can you get it or must I reach myself?”
She needn’t have bothered. It was actually somewhat amazing watching one of the Crusaders clamber so nimbly up the ladder to exactly where Zecora had left the fine dust. Apple Bloom gave the vial a gentle shake onto a scale, and Zecora motioned her away when there was enough. She combined the sand, the silver, and the other herbs in her bowl, carefully dabbing a bit on a piece of cloth. No reaction, good. “Now, for something a little weird. Aconite shall make us feared.”
“It can cause numbness and hallucination, and no beast would want to twice risk that situation. We do not do this with ease or lightly, but I shall not have a predator coming by my door nightly.”
“So.. um… how do we get it to take it? Do we throw it at it? I don’t think I can reach.”
Zecora nodded. “Within our reach is indeed too near. But a pouch and a sling will let us apply from here.” She scraped the mixture into a packet, bound it loosely, and offered Apple Bloom a corded piece of fabric and the substance. “Now, if you miss, we must begin anew, but I have faith your aim will be true.”
Applebloom nodded as Zecora opened the window, now very careful not to reveal that they were attempting anything out of the ordinary. A few twirls of the sling, a release, and the beast gave a startled yelp as the pouch bounced off of it. covering it in a small cloud. This was followed by a startled whimper, and it began backing into the forest.
“It will do nary else than itch and burn, but that should be enough to make it turn. It shall feel strange and not quite right, enough to curb it’s hunger for at least tonight.”
The whimpering, at that very moment, became a sharp yip, and then a howl of agony as the beast flung itself into… and past Zecora’s wards. It kicked, rolling in the soil and trying to rub the sticky dust from it’s body. That was not right, but Zecora had never seen such a violent reaction to something so simple. Apple Bloom looked stricken, but there was nothing to be done for it… and somehow the creature was past the first set of protection, the little filly was absolutely not leaving her hut now, for any reason.
The howling changed, the pitch raising, and for a moment, it seemed like screaming. Like someone being tortured.
And then it was screaming, the sound of leaves rustling, dry wood snapping and green wood splintering punctuating the sound.
What lay in front of Zecora’s hut was now a pinto mare in all earth tones, unconscious and battered, sprawled in the pile of bark and leaves that nearly concealed her.
“...W...Was that s’posed to happen?!”