• Published 28th Jan 2014
  • 1,449 Views, 41 Comments

Zecora's Pinata - BlackRoseRaven



A zebra spirit meets an unlikely ally after he's sent to right a wrong in Equestria.

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It's Voodoo, Mademoiselle!

Chapter One: It's Voodoo, Mademoiselle!
~BlackRoseRaven

The zebra grinned weakly as he cowered on the marshy ground, while his masters and his brothers – his own brothers! – all laughed at him. He had a battered top hat in his front hooves, and his half cape was stained with muck, several of the large brooches that had held it to his body hanging loosely from the torn material.

He had failed. Well, no, he hadn't really, he'd just been a damned messenger! All he'd done was listen to the big bosses, that was all, it wasn't his fault that things had gone so south... hell, he'd warned them, he'd even warned them that those damn stupid ouaouarons, they couldn't be trusted, they were going to betray them the first chance they had-

“La Croix.” thundered a voice, and the zebra squealed and cowered backwards as a terrible, sickly green spotlight lit up around him. It made his inverted ivory stripes and the skull-like patterning over his face all light up with the same eerie colors, the reverse-patterned zebra whimpering a bit as he looked back and forth... but now, the audience around him was nothing but a mass of silent shadows, and all he could see were their glowing eyes and the glint of charms here and there. “La Croix, you have failed us. You have allowed the cycle to be disrupted. You have violated the very thing you were in charge of protecting, Loa.”

Mes amis! Ma famille!” La Croix turned out his hooves in supplication as he faced the largest shape in the darkness... one that was so enormous and had such awfully-glowing eyes, it was easy to pick out even with the cloak of shadows concealing his fellow spirits from view. The one who would decide his fate. “Please, oh please, have mercy on this poor Loa! You know he didn't got no choice in what he did! You know it was Nanny Hel, she the traitor, she snuck those three on up out of that black bayou she call home right under our noses-”

“No, under your nose, Baron La Croix.” growled the shape, and La Croix whimpered and dropped flat, staring up in terror as the huge creature shifted, then said with contempt: “Your wheedling and whimpering does not amuse us. You were given one simple task, to keep us informed what was going on. Instead, you lied to us. You convinced us to help the witch. And she has made fools of us.”

“Boss, monsieur, mon seigneur, please! Have mercy on me, it...” La Croix looked desperately back and forth, squirming on the ground before he pleaded: “It was only three souls... hell, one and a half, really, two at the most, with the way they all linked like sausages!”

“Enough!” snarled the voice, and the enormous shape rose itself high, towering over the zebra frozen in the spotlight as he yelped and dropped flat with a whimper. “The quantity does not matter, babbling idiot! Your crime is grave because of your actions, not because of what they have caused! You have betrayed us all with what you have done!”

La Croix quailed and babbled, but none of it was coherent as he covered his head and tried to think of something, anything that he could say. But he was well-aware there was no way he was getting out of this mess now... all he could hope was that the great Bondye would show him mercy, but... well... oh, he'd never seen the big boss so worked up over what, well, really it was such a tiny mistake, anyone could have made it, and he'd honestly been doing his best to report exactly what had been going on so that his fellow Loa and his higher-ups...

And now here he was, a scapegoat, a sacrificial lamb. The zebra trembled a bit... then looked up in surprise as a familiar voice suddenly called out: “Bondye! Bondye, I plead for mercy for mon frère! Aye, he do not deserve it, and aye, you are supreme above us all, Bondye, but all the same, sang est sang, non?

Great and terrible Bondye rumbled, and La Croix dared to look up, feeling a faint spark of hope as he grinned weakly, looking back and forth through the crowd of spectating specters... but among all the black and swirling shapes, he couldn't make out Baron Samedi anywhere. But he knew, oh, he knew he owed his brother a big one after this...

“Aye, I guess that mean I gotta stick my own neck out too, then. I can't be left looking like a lâche, now can I?” grumbled another voice, and La Croix gave a weak laugh as he looked back and forth... but the voice of his other brother, Baron Cimetaire, seemed to come from everywhere at once, and the shapes in shadow were impossible to make out. “Have mercy for him, Bondye. Il n'est ce pas mal... he's just dumb.”

“Yeah, dumb, I ain't mean to do no wrong, Bondye, I just dumb, muet comme des carpes!” La Croix exclaimed almost cheerfully, sitting quickly up and waving his forelegs almost happily, and then he squeaked when Bondye growled at him, La Croix hurriedly dropping flat and covering his head again with a whimper.

But then the god seemed to settle slowly after a moment, the shape lowering itself towards the ground, those awful glowing eyes half-closing in thought. La Croix looked up worriedly, chewing nervously on his lip as he shifted back and forth before he felt both hope and terror as Bondye rumbled: “Fine. We put it to a vote. Who believes that La Croix should be stripped of his powers and stripped of his life?”

The shadows around La Croix swirled, and then limbs raised unnaturally high with growls and mumbles of agreement. La Croix looked back and forth fearfully, swallowing thickly and tugging at his collar before he whimpered: “Ma famille! Don't do this to me, y'all don't know what I been through-”

“Silence!” Bondye roared, and La Croix squealed and hit the muck again, trembling and staring up at the gigantic shape in the darkness, before the head of their merry little enclave asked calmly: “And who believes La Croix should be given a chance to redeem himself?”

There was silence for a moment... and then two limbs rose with shouts of 'aye!' La Croix looked in their direction with relief that became a reedy giggle when several more limbs rose in the air, the zebra looking hopefully back and forth at the whirling shades and the grumbles of agreement.

“And now you only further my problems, La Croix. We are left with a tie.” Bondye said moodily, and the zebra froze as he looked creakily upwards, staring at the massive shape in the shadows as the rest of the audience murmured to themselves, shifting uncertainly. “So... I will give you both fates.”

“I uh... I don't understand, monseigneur Bondye.” La Croix said nervously, picking up his top hat and uneasily worrying his hooves along the brim. “You... you ain't gonna kill me, then bring me back as a zombie, right? I don't think I'd be a very good zombie, boss.”

Bondye chuckled sourly, then said distastefully: “There, I agree with you, La Croix. No. You shall be given a mission. We shall send you to a world where the cycle is being disrupted, and you will fix it. And if you do not fix it within one month, then you fade away to nothing, Baron La Croix.”

“You got it, boss, you just tell me where to go, what to do, and I go there right now and show 'em all why vite is vite and mort is mort, I be more than glad to prove to y'all there ain't no one who cares more about the Great Balance than me!” La Croix exclaimed hurriedly, leaping to his hooves and grinning brightly as he nodded violently.

The huge shape in the shadows chuckled again at this, and La Croix felt a nervous twitch run through him before the entity said almost silkily: “Good. Then there is no further need to explain anything. Be gone, La Croix.”

La Croix stared, then he yelped when the muddy earth beneath his hooves suddenly gave way, becoming a boiling cauldron of black ooze that the zebra collapsed into with a splash. He howled and yelled, flailing wildly as the dark waters began to churn and swirl, dragging him around and around as he struggled just to keep his head above water.

“W-Wait! Wait! What am I supposed to stop? What am I supposed to do?” La Croix shouted desperately, trying to yank himself out of the grip of the whirlpool, but all he managed to do was get a mouthful of mud and send up a splash of brackish water.

“You are a great protector of the cycle, La Croix. You'll figure it out.” Bondye said disdainfully, and La Croix squealed as he was dragged towards the center of the vortex, flailing wildly before the enormous shape in the shadows added calmly: “You won't be needing your powers, either. After all, you want to prove your worthiness, uphold your dignity, don't you, La Croix?”

“No!” La Croix squealed, and Bondye growled before the huge shape rose a claw, the zebra screaming as green lightning sizzled around his form, an eldritch haze boiling out of his body as he convulsed wildly in the muck.

And a moment later, with one last crackle, one last gulp of black gunk and thunder, the stallion was swallowed up by the vortex before it became nothing but still dark marshland again. The audience of shadows shifted uneasily as Bondye only looked coldly into the eerie circle of green light before he finally held up a claw and clenched it shut.

The light whiffed out, leaving the shadowy audience in complete darkness as Bondye said calmly: “I have made my decision. La Croix lives or dies by his own actions now.”

There was no argument... not even from La Croix, who could still faintly hear Bondye's words as he was dragged down deeper into the mud, trying to shove himself free before his eyes bulged as he realized that the current was shifting, shoving him in a different direction now-

A moment later, La Croix squawked as he was blasted free from the swampy earth in a geyser of dark ooze, flipping head over heels and covered from head-to-hooves in muck. He landed with a loud splat in a sprawl before wincing as more dark mud splashed down over him... and then the wet, rumpled mass of his hat landed with a wet smack on his face, and the zebra groaned in disgust.

Slowly, he picked himself up, then shook himself out as he blearily looked back and forth. He wasn't in Darkwater anymore, though, that was for sure: it looked like he had landed in some kind of forest, full of old trees and chirping life and pretty flowers and... “Oh, merveilleux. How fantastique! I ain't landed not nowhere near civilization!”

La Croix grumbled, then brushed at himself again before scowling up at the blue sky faintly visible through the canopy of trees before he picked up his top hat and shook it violently a few times. It popped out after a moment with a sound like a cork, and La Croix gave a wry smile before shaking himself violently as he concentrated, his eyes glowing unnaturally-

Green lightning shocked over his body, and La Croix froze up with a whimper even as the mud over his body turned to baked clay and fell away in a hail of dust. Then, slowly, he slumped with a gasp as the last of the energy faded from his body, his limbs quaking beneath him as he wheezed: “Guess... guess the boss weren't kidding none 'bout that... I don't feel no more of my power...”

He lowered his head, breathing hard before cursing under his breath and reaching up to rub at his features slowly. His body hurt, and his stomach clenched, and he was shivering and shaking and... “Why do I feel so... incomplet? Wait, my powers... if all my powers be gone, then... does that mean...”

A horrible thought rose in La Croix's mind as the Loa sat back, raising his hooves in front of himself before he asked disbelievingly: “Am I... am I mortal?”

The zebra grasped at his stomach as his cape fell from his shoulders, and then he shook his head violently before patting wildly over his body, and then he overbalanced and landed on his back in a puff of dirt and grass, holding his hooves up in front of his face before he suddenly threw his forelegs out to either side, shouting in a strangled, furious voice: “Why didn't you just kill me, Bondye? Oh, how you expect me to do anything to fix whatever be wrong when I ain't no better now than any o' them dirty little horses?”

Then La Croix simply slumped, breathing hard, unable to think or focus or do anything but stare stupidly up at the sky. He had no idea what he was going to do anymore. He had no idea what he was going to say, what he should think or feel. Part of him wished that Bondye had just killed him outright: now it felt like he hadn't been given a month to live and possibly fix things, but instead a month to suffer before he was executed.

The zebra whimpered a bit to himself, reaching up and scrubbing at his features before he shook his head violently, sitting up and hurriedly brushing himself off even as his loose cape fell free from his body. “No, no, no! I ain't no quitter, I ain't no connard! I won't be made no fool of, I... I'm gonna fix all this here, just you wait and see!”

La Croix shook his hoof furiously up at the sky, and then he looked back and forth before quickly sweeping up his cape, beating the dust and specks of dry mud that remained off it, then he swirled it around his shoulders and tightened the stone brooches with his head raised proudly, leaving it elegantly spilling over one side of his body.

Then he picked up his top hat, holding it high before rolling it down his foreleg and popping it into the air with a shrug of his shoulder at the last second, the hat landing jauntily on his head as he grinned widely to himself. Yeah, he still had all his style, all his brains, all his cunning... what did it matter if he was mortal or not? He'd run rings around these ponies! He'd get things fixed within a week, much less a month... powers, bah, who needed powers?

La Croix nodded firmly, then brushed at himself a few times before puffing out his chest and looking back and forth, getting a better view of his surroundings. A rich, dark forest, full of life, full of the weird and the wonderful, he could feel... maybe this wasn't such a bad place to start after all. After all, sure, he had no powers... but he highly doubted that meant he'd become too clumsy to gather the right reagents for some special gumbo.

The zebra chuckled to himself, rubbing his front hooves together and grinning before he turned his greedy eyes back and forth... then scowled as he realized he had absolutely no clue what some of these flowers were. Others he half-recognized but... oh, it had been such a long damn time since he'd actually had to use this crude, dirty kind of magic instead of just flicking his hooves and using all the powers Bondye had given him as a Loa to get what he wanted...

La Croix grumbled, then he paused before reaching up and pulling off his hat. He shoved his hoof into it... then sighed in relief as his entire limb sank into the hat after a moment, muttering: “Bien. But I'd best be careful. My things get too beaten up, I ain't gonna be able to repair none o' these charms. I'd best play it cool, slippery as a serpent, smooth as spidersilk. I ain't gonna be no loudmouth ouaouaron, no siree.”

The zebra nodded firmly to himself, then he flicked his hat out before resetting it back on his head. He carefully brushed his black-and-white striped mane back, then took a slow breath before muttering: “Okay. First order of business be done, we look presentable. Next, we gonna figure out where the closest ponies are... Bondye ain't gonna drop me too far from where the problem be, after all. He might not like me, but he likes his rules a whole lot.”

La Croix nodded thoughtfully, looking back and forth for any sign of where ponies might be... but all he heard were animals, all he saw around him were trees and plants and greenery. He bit his lip, then growled in irritation before his eyes flicked towards the largest tree in the vicinity, the stallion muttering: “Well, they say that when you ain't able to find your way, you find some high ground. I suppose a high branch will do.”

All the same, he shifted uncomfortably back and forth from hoof-to-hoof, not in the slightest bit excited to try something so... physical. La Croix grumbled under his breath as he approached the base of the tree, then he kicked it nervously a few times before shaking himself quickly out and then looking up almost defiantly. “Okay! Okay, I'm gonna climb you, and you just gonna stay still, y'hear me, tree?”

The tree didn't respond, apart from its leaves rustling a little in the breeze, but La Croix only scowled at it nervously. He felt a strange, vibrant life in this forest... and well, he didn't actually... know much about how things worked in this mortal world. All he knew was that in Darkwater, trees were often a damn sight meaner than his fellow spirits.

He hesitantly reached up and put both front hooves against the bark, and then he sighed in relief when nothing happened. But after a moment, he scowled as he realized he suddenly had another problem to deal with: the nearest branch was a good ten feet in the air, and how the hell was he going to climb this thing with hooves, anyway?

La Croix growled in frustration, then he attempted to hop awkwardly upwards, grabbing wildly at the tree with his front hooves... and all he managed to do was scrape the bark and get a splinter in his ankle, making him yelp and topple away. He held up his wounded foreleg with a wince, then carefully lowered it to his mouth to extract the piece of wood from his skin with a disconsolate mumble.

He hopped back up to his hooves, wrinkling up his muzzle at the taste of the wood... and ponies actually ate vegetation? “Bet they drink swampwater, too! Damn, they must have guts like chèvres!

He spat to the side a few times, then placed his front hooves back against the trunk of the tree again. He glared at the lowest branch, figuring if he could somehow reach that, he could figure out the rest of the way easily enough... but just as he began to ready himself to attempt to make a wild run up the side of the tree, a voice said mildly: “You don't belong up there with the congregations of squirrels, my friend. I'm sure there are more important meetings you can attend.”

La Croix nearly jumped out of his skin before he whirled around, half-falling over. He caught himself just as he opened his mouth... and stared in disbelief at the zebra standing across from him, mouthing slowly at her.

She had gold hoops in her ears, and gold rings around her neck, and gold bangles around one foreleg. La Croix immediately wondered if she was some kind of royalty, leaning forwards and studying her intently... but then his eyes locked on her rawhide satchel and the plain traveler's cloak hanging loosely out of it, and he instead grinned widely and laughed loudly, shaking his head quickly before he met her gemstone-green eyes and mocked: “Well, fancy seein' a little lady like yourself out here, mademoiselle vielle. Merci, though, for the advice on not climbin' no trees 'round here. I suppose I should indeed leave that up to a chaoui like yourself, eh?”

The stranger's face puckered at this, and then she said sourly: “Funny, for one zebra to call another that. I've never heard such rudeness even from the meanest pony brat.”

“Well, I suppose that's just because you be from the old world, but me, I be part of the nouveau.” La Croix flicked his cape out and let his top hat fall jauntily forwards over one eye, grinning widely as he tipped a wink towards the mare. “We all gotta know our place, oui? Well, my place be above yours, shaman. You should be a-tremblin'! You should be a-shakin'! I got powers you ain't never dreamed of, I got riches, I got charm... and I got friends on the other side.”

“Strange to see a Loa in Equestria of all places: usually you hide behind shadows and false faces.” the mare said distastefully, and La Croix blinked dumbly before he scowled horribly, but the newcomer only shook her head and said softly, as she reached out and touched the root of a nearby tree: “Your gods and mine come from the same native soil; to this day, there mine continue to toil. But your great Bondye left that land behind, taking with him a train of souls of every shape and kind...”

“History, mademoiselle vielle. Ain't got nothing to do with the here or now, so why don't we skip it?” La Croix said moodily, and then he added grouchily: “Do you really have to do that damn rhyming thing, too? Y'all say that I'm rude, but I ain't the one talking in dosey-do.”

“No, you're talking in half one language and chunks of another, using mainly words you'd never dare say to your mother.” the mare retorted, and then she visibly reined herself in before saying more politely: “Perhaps we should try and start anew. My name is Zecora, and who, may I ask, are you?”

The Loa smiled at her mockingly, and then he did a little bow before raising his head and declaring: “My name is Baron La Croix, and I am an overseer of the balance and the dead of Darkwater. Bet you know what that is, now don't you, Zecora, who is so... uh... clearly poor-a!”

Zecora gave him a flat look, and the Loa sniffed disdainfully before he strutted up in front of her, chest puffed out, head raised high as he all-but-ordered: “Now, we gonna make us some rules here. First, mademoiselle vielle, you gonna take me to the damn ponies. Damn ponies been doin' things they ain't supposed to do, and even if you done stopped carin' about the great cycle, people like me and my bosses still do. We gots to keep order to things!”

As the Loa monologued away, Zecora reached calmly back into her satchel, digging around in it before she pulled a simple hide-wrapped container free. La Croix barely paid any attention to her until she shook a bit of black dust out of the container into one upturned hoof, and then he crossed his eyes and stared dumbly down at this before Zecora simply blew the dark dirt into his face.

La Croix yelped, then toppled backwards, wailing and howling as he kicked his legs wildly in all directions. “Mes yeux! Mes yeux! Oh, tu salope! Why? Why did you do that? What did you do, you fou salope? I'm blind! You blinded me!”

“Do I really have to try and explain? I think it should be obvious why you are in pain. And if you continue to call me names in your patois, I may be tempted to see if another dose will give you pause.” Zecora said irritably, then she stepped quickly back out of range when La Croix kicked blindly at her.

“Oh, c'est des conneries!” wailed La Croix, and then he grabbed uselessly at his eyes, which felt wet and sticky and like a thousand mosquitoes had all landed and bit down at once. His whole face, as a matter of fact, felt charred by the... the... “Goofer dust! You used goofer dust on me, you crazy rhyming chaoui! Oh, you wicked sorcière!

Zecora simply ignored him, looking down at him mildly as he writhed on the ground in helpless pain for a few more moments, and then she sighed and asked distastefully: “Are you truly a Loa from the land where the dead sleep? If you're Darkwater's guardian, then for the dead I must weep.”

La Croix growled in frustration at this... or rather, he tried to. What came out instead was more of a groan as he clutched at his features and flopped a little on the ground, feeling pain spreading down now through his entire body.

Goofer dust: what the hell was she, a priestess, a witchdoctor? He groaned and rubbed violently at his eyes again, but then flinched when the pain only worsened, whining: “You caught me by surprise, you cheating...”

Even though he couldn't see her, the Loa somehow knew that she was just waiting for him to finish that sentence so she could dump another helping of goofer dust on him. So instead, he clamped his mouth shut before holding up his front hooves in a gesture of surrender.

Zecora frowned at him, tilting her head before the Loa mumbled: “Perhaps we can reach an understanding, mademoiselle vielle. You take this hex off me and show me the way to the ponies, I don't call you no more names nor use any of my mighty powers to turn your forest here into a big black bayou, where you'll be the big ol' frog queen.”

“I don't believe you have that kind of power, not even in your mightiest hour. And you are far from that time as you are now... you lost your powers, haven't you? But how?” Zecora asked intently, leaning down and frowning at him.

And the Loa groaned again at this, then he grabbed at his face when he felt another twinge of pain, grumbling: “Oh, yes, mon amie. Take advantage of me, while I'm helpless to defend myself! Y'treat me so poorly for speakin' so poorly of you, but look at this, the moment a strong stallion be done, there y'are, vulture, chewin' up my entrails just like the damn crows, movin' in for the kill faster than a dirty ol' cocodril, trying to-”

“Oh, enough! Very well, I'll wash away the dust... but for this at least, keep still you must.” Zecora grumbled, reaching back and shoving the flask away, digging for only a moment in the satchel before she muttered: “Here, this will do the task... again, silence is all I ask.”

“Dirty sorcière. And hey now, y'also asked me not to-” Then La Croix gargled as some kind of horrible-tasting substance poured into his mouth, the zebra rolling to the side and spitting violently as it burned his tongue like acid before he slumped on his side as his eyes rolled stupidly in his head, feeling his entire face going numb and becoming like an anchor.

“I warned you, La Croix, didn't I say? But no, it seems you always have to have it the hard way.” Zecora grumbled, pouring the rest of the substance over his face. “This is made in part from the roots of several poisonous flowers... you'd think a spirit of the cycle would know better than to tempt nature's powers.”

La Croix gave a few muffled mumbles, and Zecora sighed before replying, as if she'd perfectly understood what the stallion had said: “No, you knew I had a potion I was going to use to wash away the dirt. And all the same you opened up your mouth and started to blurt.”

The Loa huffed and growled uselessly into the ground, but his head now felt like it weighed a thousand pounds, and his limbs had gone all feeble and floppy. But his mind was still well-aware of what was going on, and he flushed with humiliation as he heard Zecora reprimand: “Even if we are more distant cousins than we are siblings, my friend, you should know well to respect your fellow shaman's arts, whether they are to harm or to mend. You could have been spared this humiliation if you'd kept your muzzle shut, but instead here you are, stuck in an embarrassing rut.”

La Croix wanted to... scream or shout or flail or do... anything, but instead all he was able to do was flop a little and whimper helplessly. And oh, how that hurt his pride... but more than that, it sent a splinter of fear into his heart as he realized just how vulnerable he was. He had none of his powers, none of his allies, and he suffered just like the mortals did now...

Zecora ignored the weak wave of one of his front hooves in her direction, instead working on carefully washing away the goofer dust with the purifier. Her eyes were narrowed slightly, her gaze intent as she studied the zebra stallion closely, unsure of how much of what he was saying was true...

To her, he looked like he was dressed up for some fancy costume party, which only accented that unnatural patterning of his body all the more... and his patois hurt her ears, not because he kept swearing away at her, but because there was a rhythm to his voice she almost recognized, one she herself always tried to imitate in reverence to the spirit world she served.

Sure, even if he'd come in claiming he was one of the Loa, she had guessed he was really just a witchdoctor, or perhaps some kind of street magician come to Ponyville to cheat the admittedly-naïve citizenry out of their money and treasures. But his reaction to the goofer dust was surprising: she hadn't bothered with any kind of hex or curse, she had just blown it in his face to try and disorient him and make it clear she knew a little magic of her own.

Instead, he'd been completely blinded and left helpless, and there was no way that goofer dust alone would have been enough to do that. In spite of its dangerous powers, it was still most effective as a medium... at least when it came to dealing with her fellow mortals. Spirits and even more powerful creatures could often be kept at bay by the substance...

She had felt something strange going on in the Everfree Forest. Something that had felt a little like home, but at the same time, had been very different. If La Croix really was a Loa, he definitely could have caused that tingle when he'd entered this reality from the otherworld...

She finished gently scrubbing at his features with the rag in one hoof as La Croix gurgled a little on the ground. It was hard for her to believe that he could actually be a Loa, especially with how he was currently paralyzed by the purifier he'd been dumb enough to inhale... “I don't know if I can trust you, La Croix. About you, there's a certain... je ne c'est quois...”

“Ha. Ha.” La Croix managed to rasp, and then he blinked and smacked his lips a few times before realizing that some of the feeling was starting to come back to his face. He wrinkled up his snout, then attempted to move his limbs: they felt as floppy as noodles and as heavy as stone, but they moved all the same... although all he managed to do was slowly roll over and land with a thump on his other side.

Zecora simply shook her head, then she said dryly: “You are pompous, arrogant, and proud. Your head, I can see, is still clearly in a cloud. But no matter what you are, Loa, zebra, or snake, your destiny is still shaped by the choices that you make.”

La Croix grumbled under his breath, and then he spat a few times to try and get the fuzziness out of his mouth, before he said tiredly: “Tais-toi, mademoiselle vielle. You already made your damn point, I ain't got no powers but I still got all my damn weaknesses. That fou Bondye, he gone and really made the misere.”

Zecora studied La Croix intently for a few moments as the zebra stallion continued to mumble to himself, before she leaned down and asked intently: “So your powers were stripped by Bondye most high? The only thing I can think to ask is: 'why?'”

La Croix scowled at this, and then he groaned before grabbing at his face, feeling a sudden, overwhelming burst of misery as he mumbled: “Oh, it don't even matter none. We Loa be spirits, but I be spirit made flesh! And I got just one month, one month, missy, to figure out what the hell's got Bondye all in a tizzy here in this world!”

Zecora sighed a little at this half-answer, and then she hesitated before saying finally: “Although I already know I'm going to regret what I have to suggest... perhaps we should head to Ponyville, where you can get information and rest?”

“I hate them damn ponies. They ain't no damn good.” La Croix mumbled, and then he scowled up at her as he carefully forced himself up to a sitting position with a wheeze, brushing himself off before frowning and looking moodily down as he saw a medical kit of some kind. But what stood out about it was what it was made of: some kind of thick, synthetic cloth you definitely couldn't find in the forest. “You like to steal, chaoui?

“A friend gifted me with this pharmaceutical kit. Now try and be polite or I'll leave you where you sit.” Zecora said irritably, glaring at him.

La Croix only chuckled, however, raising a front hoof and replying blandly: “Now I don't mean nothin' by it, I ain't against stealing, or acceptin' charity when you don't need it. I just assumed that a zebra like you, who probably still dances the hokey-pokey when she needs some rain, didn't like to associate with... oh, how should I put this... civilization?”

Zecora stared at the stallion with disbelief as he grinned widely at her, and then she blurted: “How can you be so cruel to your own kin? How can you-”

“No more rhyming!” La Croix groaned, covering his ears and glaring at the mare, and she glowered back at him before he grumbled: “There, see? You don't got to rhyme none. 'Smore annoying than when the ouaouarons sing or the cochon wails or-”

“So gladly spout such sin?” Zecora suddenly finished, glaring over at La Croix, and the stallion twitched before she added irritably: “And now my patience honestly begins to wear thin. La Croix, if you do not stop, I will leave you hanging from a tree by your shin.”

“How in the name of the diable you gonna do that? You sure that your word-searching ain't starting to have an effect on your-” Before La Croix could finish, Zecora briskly turned and yanked a large coil of rope out of her side pack, flinging it to the ground in a puff of dust, and the stallion stared before he cleared his throat awkwardly and mumbled: “Y'know, it ain't like you're makin' anything I mighta said 'bout you less true, mademoiselle vielle.”

Zecora only shook her head slowly, then she sighed and said quietly: “You come from a place and a clan that wishes to change... I come from the land that only desires to remain the same. The fact I live alone might seem to you strange, as is the fact I have no desire to seek fortune or fame... but this is the place where I most like to range, in this forest like my own land, a place no hoof can tame.”

La Croix looked grumpily at Zecora, and she looked evenly back before the stallion reached up and grouchily brushed a bit of dirt away from his cape, muttering: “You a real paon, ain't you? Not with your clothes, but with your words. You got it all backwards, mademoiselle vielle. It be the clothes that make the stallion: words ain't nothing but what we use to lure in the suckers.”

“Words are far more powerful than you seem to think... they are what help us understand each other, reach out, form a link.” Zecora said disapprovingly, shaking her head slowly. “You must understand what relationships are... or have you really fallen so far?”

“Hey, you got your way of doin' things, I got mine. Ain't that what we decided on already?” asked La Croix crankily, and then he shook his head quickly before saying grumpily: “Tell you what. You show me to these ponies, then we ain't never got to deal with each other again. Deal?”

“Honestly, La Croix, I wish that I could agree to your deal... but I would be doing my friends a disservice, I feel. Instead, I will accompany you, as a guide... and as long as you remain in Equestria, beside you I will bide.” Zecora scowled a bit, the words tasting sour in her mouth... but there were three problems with La Croix being here that she unfortunately couldn't ignore, as much as she wanted to.

One and two both centered around La Croix himself: on the one hoof, he would try to cheat and steal from the ponies if left unattended. On the other, however, she had no doubt the fragile Loa had utterly no idea how to fend for himself, and stripped of whatever apparently-marvelous powers he'd once possessed, he would make a very easy target for any angry pony to beat on. She loathed La Croix: what she loathed even more was that he was not only a zebra, he was from the spirit world, and her ties to the otherworld meant that she had to honor him... even if he was from the weird side of the family, so to speak.

Thirdly, La Croix said he was here for a reason. Or at least, that was what she'd come to understand, between all his swearing and mocking her and everything else that came out of his mouth. If he really was a Loa, and he really was here because the cycle was in danger, then that meant the ponies might be in danger as well: after all, as much as she cared for them, sometimes they could be just a little bit... well... dumb, for lack of a better word.

Perhaps it was because Zecora had grown up in a place much less rich in resources and luxuries than where she now stood, or because everything was so controlled, their lives outlined for them almost from the day of their birth. They had been good to her, though, and they made her smile and they had, on so many occasions, unknowingly helped her in the mission she had undertaken for her people so many years ago now. She had studied them, and befriended them.

She didn't want to see them in danger... even if, as all too often happened, the ponies had the tendency to create this danger for themselves. They tampered with things they had been told not to, they wandered into the wilds without understanding the dangers they were putting themselves in, they were easily hypnotized by shiny objects and flashing lights. But she felt the same way La Croix clearly did about the cycle: it was something to be protected and maintained.

So her choice was clear: find out what was going on, and then either figure out something to do with La Croix, or what she could do to help protect the Great Balance. Which would also help protect the ponies she'd become fond of and hopefully... “La Croix, just so I am clear... when the balance is restored, will you leave here?”

Mademoiselle vielle, once I fix whatever Bondye sent me to, I am going back to Darkwater and I ain't never gonna leave that place no more. Ain't no good deed that goes unpunished, and I ain't bien enough to be mal, so instead I gonna be intelligent and just stay home from now on.” La Croix grumbled, reaching up to adjust his top hat... and then he blinked in surprise as he realized it wasn't there, looking back and forth wildly for it.

Zecora rolled her eyes, then she sighed and picked it up from the ground beside her, where she'd put it while the stallion had been blind and paralyzed... which, in her humble opinion, had been a much better way for La Croix to spend his time than awake and on his hooves. “Here. Don't fear.”

“Thank you and... merci beaucoup.” La Croix replied grumpily, snatching it away from her with a baleful look. He looked down at the top hat for a few moments, rolling it gently between his hooves before he closed his eyes and almost gingerly placed it on top of his head.

Once it was back in its rightful place, La Croix settled somewhat, preening a little as he flicked out his cape and checked himself over. Zecora only watched him with a dour expression, until the stallion looked up with a sniff. “Very well. I gonna make a deal with you, cher. I let you come along, but in return, you gonna help me figure out what's goin' on herebouts. You also gonna make me whatever potions and charms I tell you to.”

“No.” Zecora said flatly, and La Croix huffed at her before she added moodily: “I don't use Bò.”

“I ain't asking for that!” La Croix almost whined in return, shaking his head violently. “Don't you know how to work that Voodoo charm, mon amie? Don't you go lyin' to me now, either, I gonna know if you ain't telling me the truth now, hear? Especially since y'already used goofer dust on me.”

“I know of many things that all have origins in my ancestor's land... but I would prefer not to call it 'Voodoo,' you understand. I don't even know why you yourself refer to it with no regard in that patois; words have power, and you should make the distinction between voodoo and vodun, La Croix.”

La Croix bristled at Zecora's tone, then he retorted haughtily: “Maybe I ain't the shallow one here, mademoiselle vielle. Maybe it's you, since you the one puttin' all this worth on words and nonsense, like it all matters to they beyond the veil, like the cocodril ain't gonna eat you if you call him beau instead of belle. There's only one time when you gotta watch what you say, y'hear? And that's when you be courtin' mules.”

“You have pleasant words for everything, don't you my friend?” Zecora asked irritably, and La Croix stuck out his tongue at her childishly, making her sigh. “I already long for when our time spent together will end.”

“Well, you don't have to come along if you don't want to. I be just fine without you.” La Croix retorted pettishly, raising his head proudly. But in spite of his bravado, he felt an uneasy twist inside his stomach: little as he liked to admit it, having a guide would be a major help in just understanding this world he was in... and more than that, whatever else she was, the crazy old zebra lady was some kind of healer or priestess. She had knowledge, skills, and apparently an in with the ponies... he could use her. Annoying rhyming habit or not.

Zecora scowled at him, and La Croix did his best to frown horribly in return... until, finally, the mare sighed and shook her head slowly, saying moodily: “I am not going to bow my head to your insults or your threats... but nor will I allow you to put Ponyville in debt. Very well, La Croix, I'll come with you if I must... let's only hope that you don't try and betray my trust.”

“Kinda hard to betray it when it ain't really there in the first place.” La Croix said sourly, and then he sighed and rolled his eyes when Zecora glared at him, the stallion raising a hoof and promising: “I gonna treat you like you is my boo, together we gonna make fine gris-gris, and I ain't gonna make no trouble for anybody but whoever done screwed up the balance. Fair? Fair! Now, laissez les bon temps rouler, eh?”

La Croix grinned winningly, clapping his front hooves together and looking across at Zecora brightly, and the mare shook her head slowly before she quickly gathered her things up to shove back into her sidepack, deciding it was pointless to try and convince the Loa to behave himself. And yet all the same... “Yes, I suppose, that's fine and very well... I just can't help feeling you're going to make my life a living hell.”

The Loa only gave her a disdainful look, then he huffed when the mare strode calmly past, the stallion reaching up to adjust his top hat before he followed after her with a grumble... and the smallest bit of relief that maybe he wasn't going to have to face this whole catastrophe alone, after all.