• Published 6th Mar 2014
  • 6,216 Views, 152 Comments

The Striped Pony - ts_cogwheel



When a zebra has grown accustomed to being shunned, trying to become a part of a community is not easy.

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Green and Leafy

Scootaloo soared through the sky. Beat after powerful beat of her wings brought her higher and higher. At her side, her wingpony and tutor, Rainbow Dash, was sending her a proud smile. They were higher up than the filly had ever been before; so high that the ponies on the ground were little more than ants.

Those poor earth-bound ponies. Life on the ground was drab and pointless compared to this. The cool air against her face, the complete freedom, the camaraderie...

Rainbow Dash laughed with the same delight that Scootaloo felt.

"So, Scoots, are you ready for the dive?"

"See you at the ground!" she grinned back. This was the chance to show Dash how good she had become.

They hovered, wings flapping lazily. Then Rainbow shouted "GO!" and they sped downwards. A few forceful beats to stabilise, and Scootaloo slammed her wings close to her sleek body. Rainbow Dash was already ahead, but not by far. Scootaloo stretched her body, minimising her surface area and slowly gained in on the mare. They rushed towards the ground, faster and faster. This was freefall, the feeling of weightlessness, Scootaloo observed, but kept her mind steady. One small mistake, and she would lose control.

As she came shoulder to shoulder with her idol, the filly saw Rainbow turn her head and open her mouth to say something. In the tiniest fraction of a second, Scootaloo realised that the mare had twisted too much - she was out of alignment. Then the same realisation hit Rainbow Dash, as the force of the air yanked her out of the dive, screaming.

Scootaloo sped past her mentor, and in a matter of seconds she was far below the mare, who was spiralling wildly, out of control. The orange filly slowly let the tip of her wings part from her body, breaking the dive into a controlled half loop. Rainbow Dash was in trouble! She was flailing every limb in an attempt to regain her positioning, but she just kept whirling round and round. If she didn't correct her path soon, she wouldn't have time to pull up. She would crash into the ground, hurt herself, maybe even die! Scootaloo felt her own control slip away in the panic. Dash would die, and it would be her fault! If she hadn't been there, the racing mare would never misalign herself. She would...

The wind caught up under Scootaloo's right wing. She had spread it too quickly! With the force of a hurricane, the wing was yanked up, breaking bone and tearing ligaments. Scootaloo screamed.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!"

Covered in sweat, the filly sat up in her bed. Her heart was pounding loudly and her right wing was cramping.

HurtshurtshurtshurtsHURTS!

Scootaloo stroked her cramping wing, trying to massage the pain away. The pulsing sting was all-consuming, feeling like the muscle was trying to burst through her skin.

Reigning in the rebelling muscle, Scootaloo suddenly remembered.

"DASH!" she cried as she jumped out of her bed, looking all over her bedroom for her heroine in distress.

Wait. A dream. I knew that. I just... like to get up early, is all.

She continued to massage her aching wing, trying to look nonchalant for the benefit of her non-existent onlookers. Stupid cramps!

Once the pain lessened to bearable levels, the filly went over to the training rubber band tied to a ring in the wall and wrapped the loose end around her wing. Flexing the limb against the resistance, she worked the muscles back into working order, pumping the acids out. She turned on her battered gramophone and did her morning work-out to the tones of Hay Ocean!'s newest record.

Today, the soreness kept her from completing the routine. She looked over her record of the last month: slowly and steadily, her wings were gaining strength, though not nearly fast enough to satisfy the filly, who took today's drop in wing-ups as a sign of defeat as she wrote the numbers in the journal.

In a thoroughly rotten mood, she went downstairs and into the kitchen. Her mother had left for work before Scootaloo had woken up, as usual, so the filly ate her oatmeal in silence. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were probably eating with their families right now, chatting and laughing. Scootaloo poured some more alfalfa on her cereal.

Since she was up early, she did the dishes before leaving for school. One less thing for Mom to worry about, she thought. She would never admit it to her face, but Scootaloo was proud of her mother, handling everything on her own when the filly's father was out on the sea. Between the money the sailor sent home and the mare's meager wages from her cleaning job, they had enough to go by, if only just so, but there wasn't much mother-daughter time. The young adult earth pony had to manage her job, her nurse studies, and the housekeeping on her own, save for the tidbits of help her daughter could manage. Apple Bloom's family made the chores a game, and the pegasus secretly envied her friend the emotional surplus the farm ponies radiated, but she wasn't an unhappy filly.

Except for mornings like this, where she was quite unhappy indeed. She wanted nothing more than to snuggle up to her mother and cry over her stupid wings, but she dismissed the longing as foalish as she donned her scooter helmet. If her mother could handle herself, so could she.

She scooted around the block a couple of times before leaving for Sweetie Belle's. The two usually walked each other to school, and when the pegasus arrived at her friend's house, she was wearing a confident smile she didn't quite feel.

"Hiya, Sweetie Belle! Do you have everything for today's crusading?"

"Almost!" the pearly filly replied, showing off the contents of her saddlebags. "I couldn't get my hooves on any nitric acid, and Rarity refused to let me borrow Opal."

"Darn. Maybe Apple Bloom had better luck. Otherwise, I know where we can find a baby alligator and some lemons."

"CUTIE MARK CRUSADER ROCKET ENGINEERS! YAY!" They high-oned.

Loaded with aluminium foil, valves, balloons, sap remover, pliers, tubes, cardboard, tape, blowtorch, and scooter helmets (safety first!), the two left for school. On the way, they went over the details for this afternoon's crusade, and Scootaloo's mood slowly rose. Apple Bloom's schematics were quite good, and Scootaloo herself was very proud of her ballistics calculations. She had used five different colours of crayons, and complex mathematics like eight balloonfuls of hydrogen divided by still weather minus the distance a pony can run in the time it takes for the ball to drop into the basket... She had even scribbled some random numbers in here and there, to make it look all formal-like.

"Hey girls!" Apple Bloom's voice cried from the road to Sweet Apple Acres. The two greeted their confidante as she galloped towards them.

"Are you ready for today?" Sweetie Belle asked excitedly.

"Ah sure am! It's gonna be tons of fun!" the farmer filly replied.

Scootaloo chimed in, "It's going to be AWESOME! Do you have everything?"

Apple Bloom nodded and opened her saddlebags, showing off her packed... Rubber boots? Mouth shovel? Pruning shears?

"Eh, Apple Bloom... Those aren't carabiners, rain gutters, springs, or rope," Scootaloo said cautiously. Apple Bloom usually didn't mess up like this.

"Oh! For the crusading! Ah thought we could get those on our way back," her friend replied with a smile.

"...Back?" Something stirred in the back of Scootaloo's mind. Something uncomfortable.

"From the field trip, of course. Wait... Did ya forget?" She crooked her head at her friends.

Ponyfeathers! Today was biology. Then they would get their essays from last week back, and Cheerilee would probably have something to say about her answers. She didn't like disappointing her teacher, but those stupid leaves were just so boring!

She rolled her eyes. "Really, Apple Bloom? You think a field trip to look at plants is going to be fun? I'm going to die from not-coolness! I need action!" The rocket engineering crusade seemed forever away now.

The three reached school, Scootaloo's head slouching, her bemused expression contrasting Apple Bloom's bouncy eagerness. Between them, Sweetie Belle was looking from one to another, perplexed.

As they arrived, Cheerilee stood in the school yard, greeting them and their classmates.

"Good morning, Miss Cheerilee!” Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle responded. Scootaloo tried to hide behind them.

The teacher was holding the dreaded stack of assignments, hoofing out the papers to the pupils as they arrived. Scootaloo managed to sneak to the back of the line twice, but when there was only a single sheet of paper left, Cheerilee sought her out herself. She didn't say anything, didn't even look angry or disappointed. She just gave a small, wry smile as she passed the essay back to Scootaloo, who stood with her back pressed to the half-wall fencing the school, trying very hard to be invisible. This wasn't what she expected.

She fearfully looked at the paper. With Cheerilee's green correction pen was written a single line next to the last point of her essay: "Yes. Yes it is."

This was actually worse than scorn. Scootaloo knew she had done a bad job, and part of her craved the release of a disappointed reaction to clear her conscience. Cheerilee just gathered the colts and fillies and asked them to stay close.

"We are going into the Everfree Forest, so I don't want anypony to wander off. Just stick with me and keep an eye on the pony in front and behind you. Scootaloo, you take the rear. Make sure nopony falls behind you."

What? Was this some kind of punishment? Scootaloo wouldn't have thought that Cheerilee had such a vindictive streak, but she wasn't scared of the forest; she'd been there many times. She put on her cockiest smile and saluted.

"Will do, Miss Cheerilee!" If the teacher was hoping for her to whimper, she was wrong.

Actually... Some of her classmates looked at her with... Respect? Admiration? Diamond Tiara whispered something to Silver Spoon with a mean giggle, but most of the rest of her class seemed pretty scared, and Scootaloo heard Snips and Snails discuss something including the words "dangerous" and "brave."

Scootaloo puffed out her chest, and her mood lightened significantly.

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle joined Scootaloo in the rear of the group, and as the class wandered into the Everfree Forest, the trio seemed to be the only ones who were trotting along the path as they would on any other road. Scootaloo quite enjoyed her position, telling Snips to speed up several times, as he stopped and whimpered each time he heard a sound from the forest.

As they went right at a crossroads, Apple Bloom brightened even more. She looked to her friends ecstatically as she said, "Gals, ah think we're goin to Zecora's hut!"

Scootaloo nodded. Apple Bloom had brought them this way several times. The hermit always seemed happy to see them, and was kind of nice, even if she was a bit odd. Also, her cakes were delicious. It made sense, actually. If anypony knew about plants and leaves and stuff like that, it was Zecora. Do you say "anypony" about a zebra?, she wondered.

As Apple Bloom had predicted, they soon entered the clearing with the large tree. From behind the hut, they heard singing. It was a strange, yet melodic composition, running up and down scales with made-up words (Maybe. Scootaloo didn't speak Foreign very well.) Sweetie Belle stopped beside Scootaloo, listening for a short while. Then she raised her own sweet voice in song, answering the melody in harmonies

The first voice went silent, and after a brief clatter of tools, the source of it came into sight. The zebra was smiling, but it seemed a bit forced. Scootaloo was used to Zecora radiating calm, but today she noticed tail-twitching and and hesitance.

What is she afraid of?, she thought. Perhaps there was a dangerous creature from deep in the Everfree Forest prowling around? A creature that only the Cutie Mark Crusader Creature Capturers could capture, perhaps?

"Welcome, foals and Cheerilee, to my hut here in the Everfree!"

Most of Scootaloo's classmates stood huddled together behind Cheerilee. Apple Bloom bounced over to Zecora.

"Hey, Zecora! Are ya goin' to help Miss Cheerilee teach us?" she asked, wide-eyed.

Seeing Scootaloo's friend seemed to calm the hermit. She smiled and nodded.

"Indeed I am, my apple flower. I'll show you all a potion's power."

Putting on a theatrical posture, she walked over to the scared colts and fillies and started singing in a forceful, commanding voice.

"Today you'll harvest magic and brew wonder

You'll listen to the whispers in the woods.

You'll see the force of hurricanes and thunder

Pales next to that of dandelions' roots"

The little ponies fearfully cleared a path for her as she walked among them, looking intensely into the eyes of first one, then another.

"The medicines that can be stored in vials

Can cure more ailments than I care to name.

If you can overcome today's hard trials

Your look on life will never be the same!"

She circled around and reached Cheerilee. She brought out a small bottle, uncorked it, and hoofed it to the teacher, as she leaned in on her conspiratorily.

"This flask may grant your limbs inpony power

Or it may cause you to drop dead as stone

Or it may grow you taller than a tower

Or it may liquify your every bone!"

Everypony stood in complete silence. They stared at the two adults, fear or awe chiseled into their faces, holding their breaths in anticipation. Cheerilee whimpered and crouched a bit in front of the large zebra. Slowly, she brought the bottle to her quivering lips, took a deep breath and gulped before turning it bottom up, draining the murky brown liquid.

An explosion of smoke, and the class gasped in unison. Then, after a split second of bewilderment, they burst into laughter.

Cheerilee stood completely unchanged. Unchanged, except for the myriad of shining, brightly blue, green and yellow circles that moved across her usually purple body. They swirled mesmerisingly and made the teacher seem like an equine discoteque light array.

She winked at the class. "Foaled you, did we?"

Zecora laughed heartily, a complete change in attitude, and walked over to a bag resting by her door. She opened it and revealed a clutter of potion vials, flasks, and bottles. Looking the giggling class over, she asked:

"These potions may be slightly silly. Is there a daring colt or filly?"

After the morning's trip, Scootaloo felt especially brave, and she locked eyes with Zecora.

"Daring is my middle name!" she stated and stood forward.

Zecora smiled at her, nodding to... Cheerilee, who smiled back?

"No less expected, Scootaloo; I have a potion just for you." She picked up a glass vial with whirling colours and tossed it to Scootaloo, who caught it in her hooves and uncorked it confidently.

It was as if she could actually taste the colours swirling through her body and settling, with a lemony undertone to it. She eagerly studied her hooves, but her fur seemed completely normal. Turning to look at her friends, she saw a grin on Apple Bloom's face as she said: "Scoots, yer gonna love this un!"

Some familiar colours flickered in the edge of Scootaloo's vision. Her tail. Wait, not her tail. Somepony else’s tail entirely! Streaks of blue, green, yellow, orange, red... She looked back at Zecora, who had produced a mirror. Atop the head of Scootaloo's mirror image was a similar explosion of colours.

"Ohmygoshogmygoshohmygosh!" She bounched around, wings flapping rapidly. A rainbow coloured mane and tail! With her manecut, she looked just like... She squeed as her awesomometer went off the scale.

Some of her classmates gathered around her. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Twist agreed that she looked radical, Featherweight asked her to pose for a few photos (to which she graciously obliged), and after a while, she heard Snails exclaim, "I get it! It's like Rainbow Dash!"

Zecora picked up the empty bottle.

"I haven't brewed this in a while - I think it's more your than my style."

Scootaloo tried imagining Zecora with a rainbow coloured mane, but failed utterly.

Apple Bloom was the next who volunteered for a potion. It didn't seem to have any effect. From ears to hooves, she was the same Apple Bloom as before, and Scootaloo felt a bit disappointed.

"Do you feel any different, Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle asked.

"Weeeeell," hesitated their friend, "ah do feel a bit... bouncy?"

Testingly, she made a small jump. As she hit the ground, she rebounded instantly, as if she was made of rubber.

"Haaaaaay!" she exclaimed and jumped again, this time higher.

Much, much higher.

Bouncing and rebounding everywhere in the clearing, she was a pony rubber ball.

"It's like trampolines everywhere!" she laughed from up there - wait, down there - wait, up there. Scootaloo got dizzy trying to follow her even-bouncier-than-usual friend.

"It sounds untrue, but I will swear I learned this potion from a bear!"

Soon, the clearing was filled with laughing foals in different colours, shapes, and sizes. The only ones to not partake in the potions were Diamond Tiara, who looked at the spectacle with disdain, and Silver Spoon, who was at her friend's side as always, but whose attitude was ruined by a sniffle. After Zecora had hoofed out most of the potions, she looked at the ones remaining in her bag, then did a head count of the pupils. After discovering the pair, she went over to them with a friendly smile.

"You two fillies over there; would you like to have a share?" she asked.

Diamond Tiara rolled her eyes. "Plu-ease! This is so foalish! It's, like, totally uncool."

"fn-Yeah," sniffled Silver Spoon, "hnot chool at all! Lhike... rhight!" Scootaloo silently mused over the feverish co-bully's inability to think up an insult.

Zecora walked over to them, brow furrowed. Oh, this is going to be good, Scootaloo thought.

"Do you know what I disdain?" Yeah, Zecora, take 'em down! "A running nose and head in pain." Damn!

Smiling, the herbalist, said "I have something on my shelf that can help you help yourself," and left for her hut. She came back with a green book that she presented to Silver Spoon.

Diamond Tiara snatched it and read the title aloud, "Supernaturals! Oh, get real." She threw the book on the ground in disgust, without any respect for Zecora's belongings.

The zebra continued, unfazed. She flipped the book open and pointed.

"This potion must be brewed at noon," she looked to the sun, still an hour to its zenith, "stirred slowly with a silver spoon." She motioned the the filly's eponymous cutie mark.

Silver Spoon studied the book, ignoring her friend's rolling eyes. "Do you tshink I can brew this? I khnow mosth of the herbsh in here, but I've never heard of tshose..." She put a hoof to the page.

"For a picture of greentusk, I know where to look - page seventy-five in your biology book."

Seeing Silver Spoon browse through the class biology book, Scootaloo considered her own very unused copy and had an idea. Approaching Zecora as casually as possible, she asked the zebra:

"Hey, Zecora. I just wondered... You know, this rainbow mane potion of yours... You wouldn't happen to have a recipe for that lying around? I- I mean, since I am here anyway and all, I guess it wouldn't hurt to have a sneak peek..."

"The Polychrome I know by heart, You’ll need these leaves to even start." Zecora pulled out a list from her saddlebags. It sort of looked like a grocery list, but most of the names were weird and unfamiliar. That didn't discourage Scootaloo, though, because if her suspicion was right...

"I guess I can find the flowers in this book?" She produced her schoolbook with a first-time interest in the thing.

Zecora merely smiled and nodded, before diverting her attention to Featherweight, who had some question as well, holding his own book eagerly.

Scootaloo flipped through the pages. That was a lot of names, and everything looked alike - all green and leafy. This was going to be difficult. Hey, hadn't Apple Bloom done well on her assignment? Maybe she could give her some pointers...

Author's Note:

Edited by the helpful Feo Takahari.

Tell me, and I will forget.
Show me and I may remember.
Involve me, and I will understand.
Step back, and I will take action.

The teaching principle on Odense Fagskole, where I taught mathematics.The first three lines are generally attributed Confucius.