• Published 19th Nov 2013
  • 9,776 Views, 90 Comments

Soft Diplomacy - Bastinator



After arriving in Equestria, Anon was at the mercy of life. He has a crap job, a boring life and he can't even speak up for himself if his life depended on it, but books have always been there for him. What if they got the attention of royalty?

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Chapter 10: Vines and Stripes

So cold… why is it so cold? You wrap yourself tighter in your sheets, your own personal shield from the outside world. They can’t get you under these covers. It’s going to be alright. But the whispers come back once more, a never-ending hailstorm of laughter and mimicry. “Go away,” you whimper back huddled into yourself.

”Go away,” they mock, “Go away. Go away. Hehehehe.”

You feel a hoof touch your arm and immediately shake it off, “Anon.” Don’t listen to the voice. It’s a trick, always a deceit. The hoof attempts to rouse you from your cloak, but you will have none of it. You won’t let them take you away. ”Anon, sir. Anon…” Your eyes open revealing the interior of the train car, the railway officer smiling next to you, a hoof on your shoulder, “We’ve arrived sir.” Just a dream. Always a dream.

You dab the cold sweat off your face and toss your blanket aside, a simple comfort available to all customers. ”We have your bags waiting for you outside if you’ll follow me sir.” You nod, allowing your heart to slow to its normal pace as you follow the gentlecolt off the tracks. Stepping off the cart you scan your surroundings for your welcoming party, a certain purple unicorn stepping up to you with a smile, “Anon I assume?”

“Correct.”

She holds her chest politely, “My name is Twilight Sparkle. Welcome to Ponyville.” Her tiny friend quickly works to carry your luggage, a simple suitcase to you, but a colossal task for him. ”This is Spike, my faithful assistant. Say hello Spike.”

”Hey,” he strains under the weight. You roll your eyes at the pointless introduction as you’ve glossed over their dossiers on your way over here.

“Shall we get things underway?”

”Of course we have a schedule to keep after all,” she poofs a scroll from thin air, marking off the top task, “Shall I take you to where you’ll be staying?”

“That would be- Hey!” you snap at the little lizard, “Be careful with that. Don’t- I’ll take it.” You snatch it out of his claws before he breaks any of your ‘valuables’ inside.

”I’m sorry…” he groans, Twilight telling him it’s alright.

She finds you tapping your foot irritantly awaiting her move, “Right this way. The ponies have been throwing something of a welcome party since we heard your arrival. It’s not everyday-”

“Cancel it.”

”Excuse me?” she asks almost confused.

“I do not have time to enjoy myself. This is a business trip and I must stay focused.”

”I- I’ll have them know straight away…” she continues on her way. You sigh, avoiding the dirtier spots along the road.

“Not exactly the cleanest place in Equestria.”

~~~

Opening the door she leads you inside of what you assumed to be a giant tree, finding it far more homelike than you’d expect. ”This is where you’ll be staying for your trip,” she closes the door behind you as you set down your things, “And exactly how long will that be?”

“Two days at the most. Is there a spare bed or shall I be sleeping on the floor?”

”I have a couch laid out upstairs if that’ll…” she quiets down upon your fixed gaze, every second more uncomfortable than the last, “Would you like to use the bed?”

“Very much so,” you continue on as expected, “Now do you have anything to drink?”

”Of course, what’ll it be?” She moves around to her version of a kitchen, “We have orange juice, apple juice, fresh milk…”

“Something heavy to wake me up, a Pinch 42 Therrigold would be heavenly if you have it.”

Spike checks the clock, “Its 8:30 in the morning.”

“Did I ask for the time or for a drink? I believe it be the latter.” That shut the little punk up. Seriously, who keeps a dragon around as a pet anymore? This is how the Regency Fire out on twelfth started out.

”Well uh-” she fidgets, “Maybe not something like that, but uh- Ah, I have some fresh apple cider from Sweet Apple Acres. It’s the best-“

“It’ll do,” you interrupt, sitting on the stump that sports the middle of her room. Apple cider… That watered down trash is more fit to be served to… places like Ponyville to be honest. Still, you’ll take a pint where you can get it.

You gulp down the putrid excuse they call liquor, finishing off the mug in no time at all. ”Wow, you’d give even Applejack a run for her money,” she pulls up a stool. Get in, find the antidote, and get out. No muss no… What’s she looking at? Twilight just kinda looks at you, not really focused on anything but just looking. “A picture’ll last longer.”

”What? Oh oh, sorry I didn’t mean to stare.” How she ever got to be the princess’s protégé is beyond you. “It’s just a little strange meeting you.”

”Strange is one way of saying it,” the little fucktard opens his mouth again, but shuts up when you look his way.

“Well I can’t say that I understand how you mean, so I’ll chalk it up to admiration and call it a day. How’s that?”

”The princess never told me much about you. After that incident in Canterlot all that time ago I wanted to talk to you, but she told me to continue my studies.” Sounds like good advice. “Then I saw you on our way home from the Crystal Empire. I didn’t know what to do I was so embarrassed. I just smiled there like an idiot, and by the time I’d gathered my senses you were gone. I guess- I’ve always wanted to meet you I guess.”

You’re flattered, but there’s a waiting list for those to meet you and it ain’t clearing up anytime soon. “Charmed…” This isn’t getting you anywhere and you have a busy schedule, “When can I meet my guide?”

”Oh, Fluttershy? She should be on her way.”

“Too long, let’s go.”

”What about your luggage?”

“Go on outside. I’ll meet you there.”

~~~

The door shuts and you fling open your case, digging through a layer of clothes followed by books and scroll, two vials of ink, more books… “Here we are…” you find that beautiful tantalizing ambient silver case. You sniff the sides, gathering that intoxicating aroma; you can almost feel that arousing sting. What better way to start your day than a quick jump… to your… Empty. How the hell is it empty? No no no that can’t be right. There has to be a spare. Yes you hide an emergency stash in your Field Guide to the Wilderness. Just flip it open, pry into that box and… NO!

You throw the two boxes back into your suitcase and grab your beating chest. How could it be gone? You need your medicine. It’s all that kept you going. It was your key to success. Your hands grind together in nervous panic as you try and think of something to do. You’re fucked. Oh by Celestia you’re screwed to Tartarus and back there’s no way- *slap* Get a hold of yourself! It’s not the end of the world here. You just used the last of it at that party. Calm. Calm. And… calm. You take a deep breath and clear your head. You’re taking things easy now so you don’t need your little friend anymore. In a day, maybe two you’ll be back to the city and everything’ll be back to normal. Your hand continues to jitter even as you repack your things, “Anon are you alright in there?”

“Y-yeah!” you call back, “I’m fine. I’ll be just f-fine.” Tomorrow couldn’t come sooner.

You straighten your tie as you walk back outside, “Are you sure you’re alright? You look a little pale.”

“Pale? Who’s pale? I’m pale? Nonsense, you must be seeing things,” the words come flying from your mouth like projectile word-vomit.

She can tell you’re hiding something but she keeps it to herself. “Spike, why don’t you watch Owlowiscious while I’m gone.”

”But Twilight what about, you know…” he tries slyly nudging to you.

“I’ll think twice before leaving her in an alleyway, scouts honor.”

”We’ll be fine Spike, I promise.” The dragon doesn’t seem happy about it, but Twilight keeps him in check. ”I’m sorry about him. He can be so protective at times.”

“He should be glad I’m in a good mood.” You groan walking behind Twilight.

”I really am sorry, but I can’t help but have the feeling that you- How do I put it delicately?”

“If you can’t say something nice don’t say it at all,” you all but snarl at her.

Her eyes move to the ground and she quiets down for a time, “Have you been to the Everfree Forest before?” She should know better and you tell her as much, “I don’t understand what would drive anypony to go through that place.”

“I’m looking for something. I don’t know what, but I know it’s there.”

”Are you sure?”

You gaze at the tree line off in the horizon. “I know.”

~~~

You stand at the bridge exiting the town when Twilight turns to you and asks you to stay here for a second. When you ask why she says that my guide can be a little timid when it comes to new people. “Sounds a little too much like a person I used to know.”

”What happened to them?”

“He left for greener pastures,” you scratch your arm, “Go and get her. I want to get this underway.” She trots off to a row of bushes where a pair of yellow wings is sticking out, likely from one Fluttershy. You lean over the side as you watch them. Dang you can feel her nervousness all the way from over here. How the hell could you have been like that? Afraid 24 hours of the day of human- err, pony interaction. Can’t really have human interaction anymore.

You notice your arm furiously working against your arm, like a thousand spiders were crawling just under your shirt and it is pissing you off. Of all the things you packed a single bottle of bug repellant didn’t cross your mind. The fucking country… This is the last time you come out here. What is taking her so long? “Just pull her out by her spaghetti, damn.” Get a cattle prod if you have to. That’ll get her out in a jiffy. That you’re sure of. Sure enough Twilight coaxes the Pegasus across in due time. Patience is only a virtue when it’s suiting, and you’d rather not wait to have bugs lay eggs in your arm.

”Anon, this is my dear friend Fluttershy, the kindest Pegasus you’ll find.” Fluttershy’s eye darts between you and the bridge below as she tries to cover herself with the locks of her mane. There’s most certainly an innocent quality about her, but you’re here on business and don’t have time to admire the decoration.

”H-hiii….” She squeaks.

“Pleasure,” you stand over her akin to a giant, the thought obviously having crossed her mind as well.

”Just take this road straight on out to the Everfree Forest. Fluttershy will try to keep you safe, but… I really don’t think you should do this.”

“The next time I ask for your opinion I’ll take it. Dismissed Twilight.” A nod is all she gives before she’s off back to town.

”T-twilight…” Fluttershy calls ever so quietly, and it’s not surprise that she isn’t heard.

“Let’s go,” you moan walking across the bridge with your eyes on the green border. A tinge of doubt still lingers in your mind. How do you even know what to look for? Research has always been your forte, but the forest isn’t a small place nor has it even been documented in a fourth of its entirety. You’ll be searching for a needle in a haystack. And this time you can’t just light it on fire… Where’s Fluttershy? “Hey! You coming or what?”

~~~

She comes to a stop just outside the forest and rests on her haunches. ”This… this is it. I guess you don’t need me anymore so I’ll just- Eep!” You grab hold of her tail as she tries to slink away, “Umm… Could you let go of my tail? Pretty please?”

“I need a guide through the forest, not to it,” you release her. Taking a step inside you’d expect to feel some form of supernatural terror, but what you get is just more fucking bugs on your arm!

”Is something wrong with your arm?” she asks in concern only for you to snap in response.

“I’m fine! Get your flank in here.”

”O-ok…”

The tree bark is that of any other you’ve seen though noticeably darker with strange trails of sap running down the trunk. Soil, much the same as the trees. You kneel down and run your hand through the soil, sniffing the dense clot. This is some fertile stuff here. Soil like this could come handy for agricultural use. It’s a shame you’d have to burn the forest down for it. Who’re you kidding? Of course it wouldn’t. ”I- I wouldn’t taste that if I were you.”

“Is it going to kill me to smell it?”

”Well… no-“

“Then shut up and keep walking. You talk too much.” You jot down some notes in your journal and continue on your way. You’re starting to get a creepy vibe from this place.

Keeping your journal handy you try and note every fern and animal that doesn’t scurry away, which would be none. You relieve your arm again with a quick rub and kneel next to some sort of blue flower. It releases an almost giggling tune when the air hits it. It’s definitely a beauty, perhaps you could take it for further investigation. You attempt to grab the flower, “That’s P-poison Joke. Their spores umm… They’re not very nice.”

By not very nice she means they’ll chop your balls off and feed them to the sarlacc. “Jeez say something earlier will ya?”

”But you said-“

“Did I ask what I said?” Damn, fucking ponies these days. Poison joke, you write in your journal, it chops off your balls. Not entirely accurate, but who’ll fact check your claim? As you stand back up you hold onto your head again, each time the lack of blood leading to a flash of pain. Your tongue scrapes against the sides of your mouth in search of moisture and you grab a small canteen from your belt. It hurts as the liquid passes through your arid throat, worse yet as you remember that it wasn’t exactly water you’d stored in there. At least you got your daily portion of alcohol.

”You really shouldn’t be drinking that,” having smelt your concoction, “Here…” She flutters up to a vine near the treetops and snaps it off, an opaque liquid dribbling out of the end. ”Here we go…” she coos to the vine almost as if it was an animal, “It’s alright.” Floating back down she holds the severed limb to you, “It’s not the most appetizing, but it’ll help.” Reluctantly you grab it, the hefty branch warm in your hands, and venture a glance at the dripping opening, the inside lined with needlelike prongs while the surrounding plant ripples slowly.

“Ugh…” you reel away from it, “It smells like a Diamond Dog’s ass.”

”Ok…” she takes it back and sips from the vine willingly. You’d rather stick your head up a horse’s ass than drink whatever that shit is.

“That makes me…” you hush down as a rustling comes to your attention, Fluttershy too noticing the noise. She eeps and hides behind your legs like a frightened child, clinging to your dress pants like they were her old blanky. And she’s supposed to be your guide, crap… You raise your trembling fists and prepare for the worst, silently praying that it’s just a lost rabbit. What you wouldn’t give for Gilda right now… The heart wrenching snarl from the bushes only bolsters the petrifying stare from those glowing green eyes. But you’re not going down without- without a… Where’s it going?

The beast moves off through the forest and away from the two of you. “Where’s it going?” you ask Fluttershy, “Seriously, where the hell is it going?”

She steps out just as confused as you, “I- I don’t know.”

“How can you not know?! This is the entire reason you’re here isn’t it?” You can see the tears start to build up in her eyes, but you’re too angry to care. You’d be better off with Mercer’s Guide to Same Camping than this… coward. “What use are you to me? This whole situation is fucked, my guide, my task, my- these fucking bugs! Dammit!” You go primal on your arm, digging your fingernails into the sleeves of your shirt for relief.

”I- I can help…” she peeps. What a useless creature. She’s unable to speak up let alone be of any help.

“Just go,” you wave her off, “Leave me alone. I can handle this by myself.” She doesn’t budge, “Are you deaf? Git!”

Between her departing sobs you find merely temporary relief as you rub your temples. Find the cure, get out, and fuck bitches. Maybe not the last part, but you can dream. You look around the darkening forest and rub your eyes, the trees seemingly closing together by some illusion. You’ve been in some spots Anon; this isn’t close to the worst, not by a long shot. Each sound is a threat, every shadow a predator, every smell… Sweet…

Looking back to the bush the creature had retreated from you pick up the most sickly sweet aroma you’ve come across. It wraps your body in a warm bundle that makes your problems seem to vanish. Could this be what you’re looking for?

Taking a step into the sea of leaves you attempt to follow your nose, the scent always at the tip of your nose as you climb through. There’s something familiar about it that you can’t put your finger on, a relaxing element but also one that clears your mind. It’s glorious. You need to have it.

Your nose craves the very air it graces and you find your feet picking up in pace. The leaves crash into your skin as you continue forcing your way through the thickened brush. Where is the source? You have to find that wonderful fountain it stems from and bathe in its beauty. Out from the greenery you emerge, wiping off the few leaves that had clung to your body and narrow on the source. It can’t be… but it is, that tempting vial wrapped in petals of green, the relief that the needle brings…

In all of creation you would never find such luck to fall upon you. Tears almost form at the sheer joy of finding such a treat just begging to be stolen. Whoever’s it was is of no consequence to you, all that matters it what’s inside that syringe. You cross the open stretch before you and take a last look at the surrounding. Could it be a trick? Some sort of devious ploy to catch you off guard? No, impossible. But what if… No, it’s too close. Too close for you to let to pass up. The burgundy walls flush as you reach your hand within the lobes, a subtle strand of hair caressing your skin. “What the…”

That’s not a vial, it’s… you’re unsure what it is, but the glossy shimmer you mistook is certainly not glass. It’s organic. What the hell? You move your head back, the smell desperately trying to pull you back in. This isn’t a wall… It’s a mouth! You pull your hand back hitting another strand- *whoosh*

You look at your arm, half caught by the obscene jaws of the plant, its prong-like teeth fleshed outwards, several firmly lodged in your arm. Your stomach turns as you spot your blood begin to dribble off the edges. It takes a few seconds before your brain registers what just happened but when i- “GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck! GOD THE- THE SHITTING PAIN! You try to pull your arm out but another eruption of pain halts that. “This can’t be happening… Oh god please no…” Clenching your teeth you try again to no avail, your body trembling in fear. Please, you don’t want to die. You just want to get the fuck out of here. You feel a warmth travel up your arm and your anger flares. “LET ME GO! HELP! SOMEBODY!!”

You pound on the outer wall of the plant in utter desperation, even going so far as to begin breaking off the exposed teeth around you. *growl* Did the plant just growl at you? NOPE! The warmth spreads to your chest as you continue flailing away, arm tightly locked in its mouth. “HELP! H- he… he- help. Please…” You struggle to keep your eyes open, your heart slowing, muscles going slack. The last thing you feel in your arm is a stinging splash before you fall to your knees. “Help.” Your head falls forward, eyes rolling back in your head as the plant opens its maw for the rest of you. “Please…”

Death was always such a funny thing. It’s not something that most people try to document. What happens after we die? Is there a heaven? Tartarus… That is always a possibility. At least it would’ve been if you were of this world, but alas, you got dealt a different hand. Would things have turned out differently? Not just in the end, but throughout. Could you have chosen a different path? You always wanted to be an author, at least you did… Now the sight of a book is enough to make you vomit. Everything’s a poison in the right dose. Who said that? Your old man… The foolish man with a genius mind, irony is the word. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, another slice of wisdom from him. That’s the truth…

Maybe if you weren’t so harsh on the mare, maybe. There’s no sense dwelling on the past, not while you have all the time to contemplate the future. Perhaps that’s where you’re wrong. Maybe instead of looking to the future, you should look at the present. Live in the moment, as it were. Fluttershy didn’t have to come with you, but she did. When you see her… Heh, a bit late for that. But if you could see her again? Well, you’d have to find out. Gah, your arm still stings a bi- Wait it stings. Oh thank you Ms. Fluttershy, you came back for me! Ol’ Anon ain’t out of the game yet. You crack open your eyes to the somber glow of a fire… Yeah… Where are you?

The walls remind you of Twilight’s house, wooden but not planks like you’d expect. No this is carved out of a tree. You turn your weakened head and look just outside the window, just making out the moon high in the sky through the canopy. As you try to speak you find your throat dry to the point it hurts effectively turning it into a winding cough. You muster the strength to massage your tender throat with your hand before looking to the right.

The lower half of your sleeve’s been cut off, your arm resting on the leopard skin blanket bound in a cast. Just the thought of those jaws are enough to send a shiver up your spine. There’s no way you’re falling for that trick again. How bad’s the damage? You bite your lip as you slowly begin to peel it back, “That would not be wise,” You flinch back at the sudden remark and look to the doorway, “Keep it on a week or two I would advise.”

What in the world? Who is she? Where’s Fluttershy? She stops you before you can speak, “To tame a throat of yours I think, my simple mixture you should drink.” The strange mare brings a small bowl to your lips, your savior hidden save for her silhouette. It tastes of salted peppers but she keeps pouring it down your throat until the last drop hits your gullet. ”Do you find your throat still aches, or perhaps another bowl to take?”

“I’m f- *cough* fine…” Your voice sounds like a damn frog, but her medicine did seem to work.

She tenderly takes your hand and inspects the wrapping, “The Evertrap is a tricky creature, be counted lucky that you still be here.” An Evertrap? It seemed familiar, but that can’t be right. “I see confusion on your face; could this be your first time in this place?”

“Something like that… Ow,” you wince as she handles your bandage.

”The scent it spreads may spin your head, but you must be wary of its web. It makes you see what you most desire, perhaps much like a moth to fire.” She has a very strange accent, and way of speaking now that you think about it. You don’t see many ponies rhyme. ”I was here at home in this place of mine, when I had heard a scream most unkind. Not many would dare travel out this way. No pony would know how to keep the creatures at bay.” So… she was the one who saved you. Then where’s Fluttershy? ”Had I arrived a few moments later, the Evertrap’s damage would be far greater.”

“But- Where’s Fluttershy?”

She recognizes the name by her pause, “Is this the Pegasus off which you speak? I do not recall seeing her for at least a week.”

“I need to find her,” you try and sit up, “I have work. Ugh.”

She catches you as you fall back, “The venomous sap that coats its teeth still runs deep. Let it rest unless it’s pain you reap.” A paralysis then is it? That makes sense as to why you lost your strength, and why you can’t feel your legs. Her ears perk up, “That must be the brew I hear. Would you care for dinner though it may be dull for you I fear?”

“Who- I didn’t catch your name.”

”Ah I see it just slipped my mind. Call me Zecora if you could be so kind.” That’s- That’s a zebraic name. She stands in the doorway revealing her stripes, literally. Before you can question her she’s gone and you don’t have the strength to follow.

She brings you a bowl of soup and lights a candle next to your bed and you can finally get a good look at her. Her Mohawk runs the length of her head, but she keeps a firm feminine look nonetheless. She has those golden springs on her neck and left leg as well, one of the more common accessories where she’s from. The odds are definitely in your favor on this trip… You can’t believe you just thought that. What are the odds that you’d meet a zebra here, in the Everfree fucking forest? You’d expected to find some clues as to how their presence here helped them, but this is beyond luck. ”Your eyes speak what your lips will not. What is it that you have sought?”

She’s a smart one to see that you were hiding something. “How long have you lived here, if you don’t mind me asking?”

”The question you ask is one indeed, but it is clearly not the one you need.” Zecora takes your bowl away and sets it to the side.

“Do you know why I’m here?” She shakes her head and waits for you to continue. “My name is Anon, and I’m here on Canterlot business. Do you understand?”

”You come from a place of high esteem. It’s clear to me how important your task must mean.” Her rhyming is starting to get on your nerves.

“Many years ago… Ugh…” you clamp your eyes shut in pain, “A group of zebras, is it bright in here or…?”

”Cleansing the body is not a pleasant ordeal. Rest, and when you wake all your answers shall be revealed.” Did she seriously just…

~~~

You cling to your sheets, cowering within them like a frightened child. It’s too cold. Why must it always be cold? They whisper for you to come out, they just want to talk to you. You know better. You saw what they did to him. They’ll take you away, far, far away just like him. You won’t let them. You’re better than he was and you won’t leave the comfort of your bed. The whispers cease, but a new voice aches at the back of your mind telling you to look. It’s a lie, always a lie, but it asks again, just take a glance.

You do, the brown walls attempting to suffocate you though they are not what grabs your attention. What does is the syringe hovering just out of reach above you. ”Grab it Anon. It’s yours if you want it.” You can almost taste it now, that warmth it brings to your icy veins. If only you could reach. ”Grab it,” they repeat over and over again, “It’s yours.” Weaseling out from your blanket you reach up with your arm, your vision still quite hazy. It’s only when you feel that soft strand against your skin does your mind clear and heart plummet. You immediately cower back into your bed, the jaws engulfing the entirety of your bed trapping you inside, alone. ”You’re here forever Anon. Forever…”

“NO!” You shoot up from your bed clad in cold sweat. A dream. It’s always a dream.

Your throat seems to be a lot better now. Whatever it was she gave you must’ve done the trick. It’s morning by now and though it may not be a shining one like in Canterlot it’s brighter than it was before. Swiveling your hips you stand up from the bed, your legs still a bit shaky but you can still manage to walk. “Zecora?” you call out as you move out from her bedroom, holding onto the walls for support. She isn’t here, that’s obvious enough; she’s likely out scouring for breakfast.

A large rusty cauldron sits in the middle of the room amidst a bed of coals and you venture a peek inside, immediately regretting it with the stench of its previous mixture. Rows of tribal masks stare down at you from the walls each with a different color scheme of reds, blues and greens. It’s about what you’d expect from a Zebraic home, as improvised as it may be it still retains their cultural essence. That’s not to say it’s a good essence, but to each their own. You stumble over to the wall of bottles on your right and pick one up. Its label is like nothing you’ve seen before, neither Equestrian nor Village Common. ”Unless you wish your hair to sprout, I’d advise leaving that potion out.”Zecora comes in from the door with a basket on her side.

“You weren’t here so I decided to have a look around.” She places the potion back before removing the basket, slipping a few of them into the cauldron. “I suppose I have to thank you for your help, but maybe not considering that you drugged my stew.”

”A deception true it may have been, would you rather the pain to come again?” Her and her rhyming… ”Your motor skills seem to be working fine, though another day’s rest will make them shine. Tell me Anon before you woke, what was your question when we had spoke?” Oh yeah. That question that was interrupted by her drugging you. That’s not something you’re going to get over. You give her the rundown of your visit, leaving out the confidential stuff regarding the King. She prepares her breakfast all the while, humming and nodding with a smile. God dammit… ”So you seek a potion true, to cure this vicious cycle through?”

“If you want to say it like that then yes,” you scratch your arm, the bugs returning a plague to your body.

Zecora pauses at this and looks back to her brew, “Anon of Canterlot tell me this, when was the last time you had… taken a hit.” A hit of- How does she know that? How could she know?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” you lie masterfully thanks to your months of practice.

”Please Anon, do not take me for a fool. Living here has honed my mind as sharp as any tool. I’ll ask again one more time, when was the last you committed this crime?” Crime? You are not a criminal. You are a representative of Equestrian royalty, not a common thief!

“How dare you speak to me like some rabble! I could have this place burned to the ground on a whim!”

”And lose your chance at reaching your goal? I assume you not to have the mind of a foal.”

“I am not a foal!” you quiver as beads of sweat form on your head, “You know what I want don’t you? You’re not the only one who can read others, and I know you’re dancing around the issue. Tell me what I want to know or so help me…”

You step aggressively toward her with too much force and lose your balance, Zecora stepping in to catch your fall. ”Perhaps it would be best, if you let this go until you rest.” You roll off her back in defiance, your cast slamming down making you flinch.

“I need it. I’ll be… I’d be better, not some nobody like the rest, but someone worth their weight. I won’t be taken away…”

Zecora stands over you, her eyes locked onto yours, “You demand others like one would a child, but in this time you’ve let your mind run wild.” She rubs your arm with her hoof and you almost coo in satisfaction, “Does it feel like insects crawl upon your skin? Has it been two or three days since last you had sinned?”

“Please, I just want the cure…” but she keeps her gaze stern, forcing a reluctant nod from you.

”Cold sweats and nightmares come along with haste; I take it you are one such case.” Once again you nod, Zecora almost looking at you with sympathy, “This path you walk reaches only one end, and I fear you will find yourself alone when you descend.” Shame hits you just as hard as you remember it, almost more so now than before. You can’t just stop, it doesn’t work like that. She has to know that. She helps you to your feet and wanders off to her chest, “My mother once had such a sickness much like you described. No pony in Canterlot knew what to prescribe, but it so happened she knew a place, one that could aid them in such a case.”

She comes back with a small vial filled with an amber liquid and longingly gazes at it. ”The plant has since been long extinct, but what is left is most distinct.” She hands it over to you with her hoof and you take it into your hand. ”A gift from one to be given to another, those were the words passed from my mother.” She dips a bowl in the cauldron, “Morning stew?”

~~~

You hand over your luggage to the pony who stores it onto the train in your stead. Usually you’d do it yourself, but this cast makes it difficult for you. ”Are you sure you have to leave so soon,” Twilights asks with a frown, “We’re having a small get-together at Sugar Cube Corner if you’d like to come.”

You shake your head and cast down your eyes. You’ve done enough to last a lifetime. “I have a schedule to keep. I’m sorry.”

She nods, “I understand. Did you at least find what you were looking for?” You look to the forest’s edge, barely making out the hooded Zebra who’d escorted you back out.

“I got more than that…” you answer ominously.

Twilight doesn’t pry as to what you mean but tries to force a smile, “Do you think you’ll come and visit? I’d love to talk with another of Celestia’s students.” Student huh? You smile at the thought and straighten your tie.

“Enjoy the party Twilight.” You’re about to board the train when you stop yourself and turn back. “Oh and Twilight…”

”Yes?”

“Tell Fluttershy… Tell her I’m sorry. I know it’s not much-“

”It’s enough,” she grins, “Have a safe trip home.” You nod one last time and board the train, sitting in your designated seat.

The train attendant comes over as you scratch your arm, “We’ll be departing soon. I can acquire a hard beverage of your choosing if you would like sir.” You begin mentally listing off all the ones that come to mind only to stop and smile.

“I’ll have a water, thanks.”

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