• Published 23rd Aug 2013
  • 5,722 Views, 578 Comments

Sweetie Belle Gains a Soul - Bad Dragon

In her darkest hour, Sweetie Belle finds salvation, but it comes with a terrible curse.

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00 - Prologue

Author's Note:

[You may also revel in the Youtube dramatic reading]

If you want to listen to music while you read, you may consider these clips that are thematically in line with this Prologue.
After Forever - Beyond Me lyrics
Atargatis - Selina
Satyrian - My legacy

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“Yes, spirits, I can hear your voices in my head!” Xerath softly croaked. “I’ve no time for useless wrath; or will you show me a plentiful path?” Spittle flew from the zebra’s muzzle while she rhymed. She swayed to the next bush and sighed at the bothersome conversation picking up in her mind. “You promise to help me, but it’s always a trap!”

The old witch lifted the bottom branch of a thick shrub and leaned down under it. After pushing her head between the leaves into the dark opening, she sniffed at the flower growing in the shade.

Xerath took the stem in her mouth and carefully pulled the plant out of the soil. Bits of dirt drizzled down from the roots as the old zebra slowly rose. She released the branch, letting it fall to the ground. Both hind legs spread as she lifted a foreleg under her muzzle. The flower was laid on the hoof with care. Delicate as a strip of gossamer, the pedals wavered in the soft breeze.

Her eyes squinted at the frail plant. She nodded to herself while a wide grin embellished her face. “Requirements for my brew should soon be met. A few more of these, and I’ll be set.”

She twitched, looked around then nodded at the air. “If you want to help me, spirits, that’d be grand, but know that I won’t yield to your demand!”

Xerath sluggishly leaned back. Slowly and cautiously, she lay the rooted flower into the saddlebag. Her delicate care of the plant could only be rivaled by a tending mother putting a newborn foal to sleep in a rocking cradle.

Her teeth clenched as she wearily straightened her posture. Sighing, she gazed across the vast clearing in the midst of the Everfree Forest. There were clusters of bushes scattered all around her, but only a few of them nursed the herbs she sought.

Her ‘monologue’ continued, “Rare are the places where these flowers grow. This clearing is one of them, that much I know.” Upon reaching the next bush, she looked under it and saw nothing. “But this flora is so very hard to find. Especially since I’m half-blind. Oh, spirits, lead me to the plants I seek, assist a zebra, who’s old and weak.” She glanced at the sky. “If in my search of herbs you help me out, of your deeds I will be proud. Provide me with directions or a simple cue, and I shall take a different stance in regards to you.”

The seer zebra closed her eyes and perked up her ears. Suddenly, she shook her head in response to the silent voices booming in her mind. “No! I give you nothing in return, the concept of aiding you should learn.”

Her eyes rolled around even more than usual. “Oh, but I do know of your plight.” She slammed a hoof on the ground. “It’s what you’re suggesting that’s not right!”

The wrinkles on her forehead bunched together as a hoof pressed between her eyes. In the rhythm of the heartbeats, her head slightly jerked up and down as she sighed. “Believe me, spirits, I have learned the ritual well. Although I could, I’ll never use the spell!”

She snorted. “The nether hurts you, this I know. Don’t presume I’ll help you to transcend it, though. What your escape entails, I already know. Never again shall I sink that low; to those closest to me I once delivered this blow; again across the river of blood you won't make me row!” She crouched down looking left and right. Squinting her eyes, she pushed through another cluster of bushes.

Her body stiffened. “Your teachings weren’t to make me smart. Oh, no! You all sought to use me from the start!”

The zebra stood up and widened her stance, yelling in the air. “The art of necromancy is all you taught, your vile instructions banishment on me had brought!”

Her ears pinned forward. “I know all about the cravings you address. A mere thought of them will give me immense stress!” The zebra squinted her eyes and tried to make out a small hurdle on the path while she continued her monologue, “You lust for life; you want a form. A body, that need not be warm.” She kicked a rat’s carcass before her off the path. “I see no harm in waking the dead. Rather what comes after is what I dread. You feed on others trying to regenerate, even the living you fail to venerate. Your half-life is brief and serves no lasting goal. Despite your efforts, you shall never be entirely whole.” A striped hind leg twitched and kicked, sending a patch of grass flying through the air.

The wrinkled sides of the zebra’s face tugged at the corners of her mouth when she lifted her head. Her eyes shot open and she nodded at the air. “Yes, I do seek your knowledge, but raising you I shall not promise! If you grant me know-how, I’ll be grateful, and you’ll prove yourself to be less hateful. If those terms you can’t accept, in the afterlife you should be kept!”

She shook her head. “You plead with me to no avail: the living, again, I shall not fail. In mortal lands you’ll make no trail, however loudly you may rail.”

The zebra half-closed her eyes in the direction of a haul at the other side of the clearing. “My saddlebag has room, and I’m in need of a few more herbs, but wilderness, once more, my schemes disturbs. The dreadful thought of facing timberwolves my mind perturbs.” She turned around and trotted onto the path leading into the woods.

The ever-darker shades of the forest trees merged into one while the few remaining patches of illuminated ground slowly.vanished into the benighted surface. At the base of a broken tree, she looked up to seek out the last flickers of the setting sun, using them to point her in the right direction. Alas, she could not count on them any further. The path was hers alone to traverse. Her tail whipped left and right when she tried to make out the dreary path through the Everfree Forest.

Her ears swiveled in the direction of the distant growling. She bit her lip and tapped both forehooves on the ground.

She sprung into a gallop, then kept a fast pace all along the path with ever-darker phantasms of the ancient trees. The vegetation on the sides of the path thickened as she made her way deeper into the forest.

Wheezing through her clenched teeth, she ran along the dusty path. Sweat gathered under her striped coat, yet she pressed on tenaciously, leaving muffled, screeching howls far behind her.

The old zebra raced from the lurking terrors of the Everfree Forest. She didn’t slow down until she laid her eyes on the small clearing that harbored her hut.

Panting, she trotted toward it. “Bad ghosts, my mind’s unwanted co-hosts! Another day is wasted, talking to you. The few herbs I found myself, they just won't do. I wish more flowers I had picked, but instead, I let myself again be tricked. No help I received from you once more.” She growled. “You would only use me as a whore!”

“Rare gift I have to speak to you, but you refuse to help me even with a simple brew. Your intentions are selfish, I found that to be true. My spirit-whispering is more of a curse you try to abuse for breaking through.”

“Ghosts, your company I like, don’t get me wrong, but your whining for life I can only stand for so long. We part our ways now, spirits leave, my hut is not your place to grieve.”

The witch walked to a totem in front of her hut, wearingly raising a forehoof. With it, she slid across a black crystal tied to the top of the wooden structure. A faint glow brightened the surroundings when she crossed the line marked by various bones. “It’s my home and mine alone. Voodoos form a no-enter zone!” Similar totems, placed around the hut, lighted themselves in quick succession.

“From this point forth, only the living may proceed, whimpering ghosts in my home I do not need!” She opened the door and sighed. “Peace and quiet in my head, oh, sweet silence, I deserve a rest from all the dead.”

Just before she entered the hut, her ears shot up upon hearing a crack of a branch and a swish of the leaves. The joined yelp of three fillies sent a flock of birds flying from a nearby treetop.

She glared in the direction of the kerfuffle and shook her head. “Those are some foalish foals, disregarding the dangers of their course.” After snorting through her nostrils, she moved inside with heavy steps. Her hind leg shut the door as she carefully unstrapped the buckles of the saddlebag with her mouth.

The whooping sound of barrier interference disturbed the silence in the hut. Xerath’s frail body flinched. Her head snapped from side to side, eyes darting around the room. Startled, she knocked the saddlebag off her back, scattering greens on the wooden floor. Her tail whipped left and right.

The trembling zebra took a few steps back. She didn’t even bother to inspect the squishing sounds from under her hooves. Her eyes and ears were fixed toward the ceiling. “Nether creature, what in Tartarus are you, how did you manage to break through? I sense your strength, your power great.” She nodded. “If you come with knowledge, we can mingle. If not, dark schemes in my home you shall not shingle.”

Her ears perked up. “I sense you’re more than just a common ghost, your cognition is worthy of your boast. My crystals you confronted, without getting even slightly shunted. They sing to your tune more than mine, you present yourself as their divine. I still find crystals to be fickle tools, but seeing you manipulate them gives me drools, those who master them are certainly not fools.”

She nodded. “Mmm, I do crave the knowledge you’re addressing, to learn it from you, it would be a blessing. But if in a deal you intend to press, I’ll deny and blame you for my stress.”

She opened her eyes to their full extent and leaned back. “Teaching me a waste of time you deem, yet order me to partner in your scheme. I care not for the connivancy you've planned. In this world, you have no leverage for demand. True, my crystal barrier you passed, but still your arrogance is way too vast.”

“Pff!” Saliva flew from her mouth while she scoffed, “Ghosts have no sway in the realm of living; no thrust can you produce for forceful raving.” She dismissively waved a hoof in the air. “I won’t be pressured into giving.”

Her ears pinned up. “Are you mad—more so than me? I shall never set you free!”

“And not just a vessel of dead flesh and bones, you want a living one that a soul still owns?”

“From all the tales I’ve heard so far, yours is one that’s most bizarre. A living pony into a vessel you wish to transform, immortality spell on it you would perform.” Her eyes rolled around even more than usual. “I’ll take no part in this, you are insane, go now and forget about your evil bane.”

“Pha!” She shook her head. “Your threats are worthless in the living realm, no empty word this witch can overwhelm.” Her eyes narrowed.

She slammed a hoof on the floor and snorted. “Spirit, go away now; let me be”—her lips stretched into a grin—“ else I’ll bind your royal soul into a tree!” The zebra descended into crazed hysterics, shoulders wracking as she cackled with glee. Her giggles sprang into outright laughter.

Suddenly, the whole hut shook. Shelves vibrated. Pots and talismans shattered as they crashed onto the floor.

Xerath ducked in a corner. Her teeth clenched, body trembled.

She wasn’t laughing anymore.