• Published 28th Jan 2014
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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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Ponyville Laments

Chapter Two: Ponyville Laments
~BlackRoseRaven

La Croix was a little horrified by the dirty little village they walked into. Sure, he'd been in some backwater bayous in his day, but nothing compared to this. And it wasn't because the village was so... well... crude, but because it was so uncultured, so unrefined.

He shivered a little as they walked down the dirt road, getting stares from slack-jawed pony hicks who clearly didn't know how to mind their manners, much less their own damn business. He scowled a little, but Zecora only muttered to him: “Keep your cool. Don't be a fool.”

“Keep your... rhymes in check, or I'll... send y'all to heck.” La Croix grumbled in reply, shaking his head violently before he added grouchily: “Look at 'em! Starin' at us... where we goin', anyway? These ponies look dumb as poulet. I doubt they got anything to do with why I was sent here.”

“Stop rushing, La Croix. Your haste is a flaw.” reprimanded Zecora, and La Croix groaned and rolled his eyes before the zebra mare gestured ahead, towards a massive tree... except as they approached, the Loa's jaw dropped as he realized that the damn ponies had actually made it into some kind of weird house. “That building ahead is where we have to go. Inside it lives a pony who will-”

“Let me guess, know.” La Croix said sourly, and Zecora simply gave him a dry smile before he muttered: “Well. Ain't like it could get any worse.”

Zecora glared at him, and La Croix huffed at her, saying childishly as they walked up to the door in the tree: “Oh come on, you don't really think that I gonna be punished for that, right? That ain't the way karma works, mademoiselle vielle.”

He rose a hoof and hammered twice on the library door, and there was silence for a few moments before the stallion scowled a bit, then knocked wildly on the front door. Zecora glared at him, then she reached up and grabbed him, forcibly jerking him away from the door to stop him from pounding on it as she grumbled: “It's clear to see there's no one here. But there's not yet any need to fear. I have no doubt that Twilight Sparkle will soon return... until then, perhaps we should attend to other concerns.”

“You added an 's' there, mademoiselle vielle. Don't think I didn't notice that. I call that cheatin'.” La Croix said pointedly, and then he looked back at the library door before his brow suddenly furrowed, asking slowly: “Wait. What did you call that pony?”

“Twilight Sparkle, a princess of this land. But perhaps we can speak to one of her merry band.” Zecora said mildly, beginning to turn away... and then she winced in surprise when La Croix seized her and yanked her back to face him.

“We ain't dealing with no damn Twilight Sparkle, and no damn princesses, either! We gonna keep us right clear of 'em all!” La Croix said hurriedly, shaking his head vehemently. “No, we gonna stay far away from her and them and anyone like 'em!”

Zecora mouthed wordlessly, and then she carefully reached up and extracted La Croix's hooves from her, asking uncertainly: “Perhaps this would be something I'd be better not to wonder... but do you know the princesses from some former blunder?”

“It wasn't my blunder! It was... how the hell was I supposed to deal with Nanny Hel! I ain't supposed to be nothin' but a messenger, but oh, Bondye, he quick to blame me all the same!” La Croix exclaimed, making a violent chopping motion at his own neck.

The mare reared back slightly, and La Croix stared at her before clearing his throat, carefully reaching up to adjust his top hat before he said awkwardly: “But none o' that is important, nope. These uh... this is a different Twilight, anyway. All. Real complicated stuff, ain't for you to worry none 'bout, mademoiselle vielle. Let's just find us a oiseau that'll sing for us.”

“I wish you'd at least try and be nice to these ponies. Most of them are very kind, few of them are phonies.” Zecora said after a moment, then she sighed and followed when La Croix only sniffed and spun around, looking back and forth before he trotted quickly towards an apple cart where a large, red stallion was working. “La Croix-”

“No talks!” snapped the Loa, and then he stumbled to a halt and scowled over his shoulder at her. “I mean, tais-toi. You're startin' to make my brain itch. Now stay outta my head or I'm gonna go upside yours, y'hear?”

“You're truly an intimidating male. No one would ever guess how eagerly you turn tail.” Zecora responded mildly, looking unimpressed, and La Croix grumbled as they approached the apple cart before the zebra bowed her head politely to earth pony. “Greetings, Big Mac. My friend wants a snack.”

“I... uh. Well, yeah, actually, I could go for a bite.” La Croix said thoughtfully after a moment, leaning forwards and poking quickly through the apples with one hoof, rolling them back and forth before he looked up and asked with a grin: “Y'all don't mind a free sample, do you?”

Big Mac scowled slightly beneath his hay-colored bangs, then he said pointedly: “Two bits.”

“Oh, come on! We all friends here, right? Hell, hayseed, y'all should count yourself lucky to have royalty like myself here over in the muddy side of the bayou, with all you dirty ouaouarons and crawfish.” La Croix said crankily, and Big Mac narrowed his eyes slowly before the zebra stallion dropped to rest an elbow on the stall, leaning against it as he picked up an apple and bit into it with a grin, chewing loudly as he added contritely: “Now you best watch yourself, boy. Y'all might be big and strong now. But with one little wave of my hoof, I could turn you back into a pépin de pomme.”

Big Mac frowned uncertainly, and then Zecora sighed and quickly reached back to dig in her satchel before she pulled out a few coins, tossing these on the wooden slat that acted as a counter. “Three bits for your patience, Big Mac. Although I will not blame you if you give him a smack.”

The large earth pony grunted, and La Croix huffed loudly at Zecora before the crimson stallion asked slowly: “And he is...”

Zecora bit her tongue nervously, looking over at La Croix, but the Loa only laughed loudly before he grinned widely and swept his hat off his head as he stepped backwards and bowed low. “I am Baron La Croix, and unlike this two-bit priestess, I can make miracles happen and change your fate! Oh, sure, you might think I be fou, but I be fou like the renard, y'hear?”

Big Mac looked unimpressed, and La Croix only smiled as he straightened, taking another chomp out of the apple before he said easily: “But I guess a big strong colt like you ain't interested in talkin' to his parents again, huh?”

The earth pony flinched as if he'd been struck, eyes widening, and Zecora winced before she grabbed La Croix and forcefully turned him around, excusing awkwardly: “Pardon us for leaving so fast, but the day is already at half-mast.”

“The only thing at half-mast is that stallion, at the thought of seeing maman et papa again.” La Croix muttered cheerfully, and then he laughed when the mare gave him a sharp look. “What? It was just a bit of fun, ain't no harm in that! 'Sides, having a big ours like that on our side would make this whole mess a whole lot easier, non?”

Non. N'est bon.” Zecora said moodily, and La Croix gave her a horrible look before the zebra said tiredly: “Have you ever thought that there's a chance, you were punished for more than circumstance?”

“I don't know what you're getting at, but I already don't like it.” La Croix said grumpily, and then he added pointedly: “Furthermore, you got no right to mock the way I talk. I don't do that to you none, you rhyming ouaouaron.”

“First of all, you've done that to me several times; second of all, you attack me with more than rhymes.” Zecora retorted, shaking her head shortly before she sighed tiredly, almost pleading: “La Croix, listen to me, I'm trying to help you here. You obviously have a lesson to learn if you want to return to what it is you hold dear.”

“You double-rhymed there, so I'm going to be twice as insulting from now on, chaoui.” grumbled La Croix, and Zecora sighed tiredly before the stallion asked grumpily as he looked back and forth: “Why do all these ponies look so damn heureux? They look like they drank too much o' the joie de vivre. Ain't right.”

“Do you think they should be sad instead? And here you thought there was something wrong with my head.” Zecora replied mildly, and La Croix glared at her. “You're making me think again what the spirit world must be like, see... but imagining a world of spirits like you hurts my psyche.”

Je vas te passe une calotte. Right upside your damn head.” La Croix threatened, and then he glared at her and added: “And hey, we don't know that my powers be gone for good. You keep this up, I gonna turn you into a fly and feed you to the spiders. Or maybe I just skip all that and make the spiders eat you up right now.”

Zecora looked less than frightened, giving the stallion a mild look, and La Croix rolled his eyes before opening his mouth... and then both zebras staggered to a halt as a pink shape landed in front of them, bouncing several times excitedly before La Croix realized it was a pony.

She was... well, pink. Pink, and energetic, and La Croix reared back in horror from her when this newcomer shoved her face almost right into his and exclaimed: “Hi! Who are you?”

C'est quoi ce...” La Croix caught himself, clearing his throat and shaking his head quickly before he smiled lamely and slowly reached up to carefully push the pony away. She only giggled, looking at him with bright, childish blue eyes, and he winced a bit as he pulled his hoof away from her mess of a mane and found it felt... sticky. “Well. Ain't you... nice.”

“Pinkie Pie, this is my... friend. His name is La Croix, and he comes from around the bend.” Zecora said awkwardly, gesturing vaguely down the road, but Pinkie Pie only smiled brightly and nodded fervently a few times.

“It's really nice your friend came to visit you... say, is he your brother or something?” asked Pinkie Pie curiously, and La Croix and Zecora traded looks before they both made horrified faces and leaned away from each other.

“You gonna give me cauchemars. No way in hell.” La Croix stopped, then he scowled horribly, putting a hoof against his chest as he asked sharply: “Wait, wait, you think that just 'cause we both zebra, we gotta be related? We don't even look alike, I'm 'bout the handsomest damn thing y'all ever did see and she ain't nothing but a verrue on a crapaud!

Slowly, Zecora turned to glare at La Croix, but Pinkie Pie was now awkwardly blushing, leaning back and shaking her head violently, but La Croix didn't give her a chance to say anything as he continued in righteous rage: “You think all we zebras is the same, that just 'cause I don't talk like y'all ponies do, that just 'cause I got me stripes I been marked as some lesser being by y'alls god? Well, I sure as hell don't believe in y'alls god! Mon dieu ain't no sissy like y'all and your gods are!”

“No, no, I didn't say that, I didn't say anything about that!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, shaking her head wildly and looking horrified as she almost fell over. “I don't mean to insult you or your god or-”

“Oh, so you think you're better than me 'cause I gots my beliefs in god and magic, is that it? Y'all think I ain't nothin' but a chaoui, right? A dumb thievin' animal, here to steal your garbage! Well, I'll tell you what, petite madame, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, you hear me?” La Croix stepped towards Pinkie Pie, grabbing her and shaking her violently before he let go of her, and she fell limply backwards, staring up at him disbelievingly. “And I ain't no damn chaoui, you ain't nothin' but a racist, comin' up here, insulting us like that!”

“But... I... wait, what, but, no I-” Pinkie looked stunned, shaking her head wildly as Zecora glared over at La Croix.

But the stallion only huffed and suddenly wrapped a foreleg around the zebra mare as his other firmly slapped against her cheek, making her wince and automatically reach up to grab her face. And then La Croix declared in an injured voice: “And now you call me a liar, after look! Look, you just 'bout pushed her to tears, you call us liars!”

“I... what? No, oh, Zecora, I didn't mean to!” Pinkie wailed despondently, shaking her head fiercely as she put her hooves together. “I'm sorry! I'm really really super sorry if I-”

“If, if, if! And look at you, you still can't accept what you did! You still won't admit what a terrible pony you were, you still think of yourself as better than us!” La Croix struck a theatrical pose with one hoof against his forehead, the other thrust out towards Pinkie.

“No I don't, I really don't! Oh, I'm sorry, sir, I really didn't mean anything by any of it! I just get carried away sometimes, I mean... I'd do anything to make it up to you!” Pinkie pleaded, throwing herself down on the ground in front of the stallion.

And La Croix suddenly grinned, scooping her easily up with one foreleg and poking her chest with the other as he said mildly: “Monetary compensation's always fine.”

Pinkie looked dumbfounded, and then Zecora seized La Croix by the back of his cape and yanked him away, the zebra mare saying flatly: “I am fine, Pinkie Pie. But if La Croix keeps this up, he's going to die.”

“Die of heartache, you mean, with how this pony keeps treating us! She don't even know when it's polite to pick up and leave, after all.” La Croix said pointedly, and when Pinkie Pie stared at him, he leaned over and whispered loudly: “That's your cue to leave, petite madame.”

The pink earth pony blushed, then nodded violently before she quickly spun around and scrambled away, and La Croix laughed loudly before Zecora said distastefully: “I thought you had none of your powers left? From what I've seen, you're not so completely bereft.”

“Hey, I don't need no fancy powers to pull the manes over these ponies' own eyes. They all but beg for it, after all.” La Croix replied easily, shrugging and giving an entertained grin over to Zecora. “Nah, ain't nothin' but a little farce, that's all. You can't blame me for bein' good at deliverin' a punchline, now can you?”

Zecora glared at him, and La Croix huffed and waved a hoof before adding grumpily: “Oh come on, ain't like I hurt nobody. I'm just having a laugh. Une ha-ha, est-ce que tu me comprends?

“I'm curious, La Croix, why did you adopt that manner of speech? It has nothing to do with what our ancestors used to preach.” Zecora asked calmly, deciding it was better to just move on to another topic than try to reprimand La Croix. He seemed to only take that as encouragement, after all.

La Croix huffed loudly at this, and then he absently smoothed out his cape before replying dryly: “Gotta change with the times, that's all, mademoiselle vielle. But I'm sure that's hard for you to recognize, bein'... one, two hundred years old? Yet you don't look a day over une mille!

Zecora took a slow breath as they walked along, and then she said almost grudgingly: “I'm seventy-five. That's how long I've been alive.”

“Ooh. Je suis désolé.” La Croix said almost mockingly, and Zecora rolled her eyes before striding past, deciding that they should probably keep going.

La Croix followed for a few moments in relative quiet, only making a few foul-mouthed remarks now and then... that was, right up until two young fillies came running up to Zecora, and she winced a bit as they all immediately stared at La Croix. La Croix looked back at them with something like revulsion, rearing away like he'd never seen foals before.

There was an awkward silence for a few moments, and then Zecora cleared her throat before asking the two fillies carefully: “Where is Scootaloo, my dears? You haven't left her behind, I fear?”

“You didn't rhyme the 's' again. Y'can't fool my ears.” La Croix said loudly, and the fillies giggled, which only encouraged the stallion as he grinned mockingly over at Zecora, the mare slowly closing her eyes in vexation.

“Hey, you talk like me, Mister! Howdy doody to ya!” cheerfully shouted the yellow earth pony filly, and La Croix stared at her with disbelief as she grinned up at him, orange eyes gleaming beneath her messy red mane and oversized hair-bow. “Y'all should come back and meet my sister at the farm, bet she'd get a real kick out of a zebra that sounds just like family! Not that you ain't like family, Zecora, I don't mean nothin' by that.”

“The hell do you mean by that? We don't sound similar in the slightest, you mud guppy!” La Croix snapped, and the little filly looked horrified before La Croix whirled towards the white unicorn filly beside her, adding vindictively: “And you look like some kinda pasty little candy tart.”

The fillies traded dumb looks, and then La Croix leapt forwards, stomping his hooves and leaning down as he said darkly: “Now, you two tadpoles listen up, 'cause I ain't gonna repeat myself. Y'all go run along and find your friend, or I'm gonna use this...” He reached out, and the earth pony filly yelped as he plucked a few strands of hair from her mane. “And make me a voodoo doll. You know what that is, right? It let me make you dance! It let me make you sing! It make you do whatever the hell I want you to, got it?”

The filly whimpered and cowered away, and La Croix grinned as he turned his eyes to the terrified-looking unicorn foal, leaning forwards and threatening: “And you, madame, I gonna call down the spirits on, and they gonna take you over, and you gonna find yourself scratching at fleas and howlin' at la lune, until you become a loup-garou and-”

“Girls, please get away from here. My friend has had one too many a beer.” Zecora interrupted shortly, and then she reached up and grabbed La Croix by the ear, the Loa squalling as he was dragged painfully away down the street and then around the corner into an alley.

Zecora finally let go of him here, and the stallion whimpered a bit as he reached up to poke uneasily at one ear as the mare said sharply: “In all my years I've never seen such awful behavior! And yet you say you're supposed to be coming here as some sort of savior! What do you think you're doing, treating fillies like that? It makes me wonder if you even have a brain under that stupid hat!”

“Hey, now that just ain't fair!” La Croix replied grumpily, crossing his forelegs and glowering at her... but he looked a little uneasy now at least, shifting back and forth before he grumbled moodily: “Okay. So maybe I was a little mean to the kiddies. Still, I don't like how everyone 'round these parts assumes we be related.”

Zecora sighed, then said sourly: “Believe me, La Croix, I loathe that as much as you do. But that's still no reason for you to treat them like poo.”

La Croix only shrugged a bit, then said dryly: “Ain't like they gonna do nothin' about it. Now... I think I'm startin' to get all tired-like. You know what? We made good progress today. We here, we dealing with these ponies, now we just gotta find me a place where I can sleep this off. My head be hurtin'.”

The mare slowly rubbed at her face, and then she muttered: “My head hurts too, and aches more at your request... you want a place to sleep after putting all of Ponyville into unrest?”

The stallion only sniffed disdainfully, waving a hoof and replying mildly: “Oh come on now, you're exaggerating, cher. Ain't no way all the ponies here already hate me. Besides, l'argent parle; I know that be the truth in every world.”

La Croix grinned and flicked open his cloak before he pulled out a bag of bits from an inner pocket, and Zecora frowned at him for a few moments before her eyes widened and she blurted: “That sack! Give it back!”

“No, 'smine now. I took it off that pony fair and square, 'long with these.” With a nonchalant flick of his wrist, La Croix seemed to make an apple appear out of nowhere as he grinned widely, eyes gleaming. “Silly ponies all but beg for me to lighten their loads. And here I was, scared that I'd lost my magic touch.”

Zecora ground her teeth together, and then she stomped a hoof angrily before snapping: “You know what I think, La Croix of Darkwater? You don't want help, you want the water you're already in to be hotter! Fine, have it your way if you're going to behave like a whelp, you can deal with the ponies without any of my help!”

And with that, Zecora spun around on her hoof and stormed off, fuming furiously, and La Croix huffed as he waddled out of the alley after her with his stolen goods in his front hooves, shouting: “Yeah, fine then, I don't need you, mademoiselle vielle! Get, get gone then, y'ain't nothing to me, y'hear me, chaoui? You scamper, you get on back to your bayou, get!”

Zecora only strode angrily away, and La Croix sniffed loudly before he bit into the apple, chewing on it slowly before cursing under his breath and spitting out the mouthful of food, looking at it with a grimace. It just... didn't taste right to him now for some reason. “I was even gonna be willing to share it with you, too, but... fine. I don't need you. I don't need anyone's help. Bondye, he know I gonna do good here, I gonna fix things. The Great Balance, 'sall that matters. Ain't gotta pay no attention to these... dumb ponies and their dumb laws and rules, I'm above that.”

La Croix grumbled a little, then he looked back and forth before sighing and flinging the apple away with one hoof, and tucking the bag of coins into an inner pocket of his cape with the other. He quickly brushed himself off, then sniffed loudly before looking back and forth and deciding to find a place where he could stay in this one-carriage town.

La Croix thought that some of the ponies were giving him the old evil eye now when he passed, but he thought that was just because they probably weren't used to seeing any strangers around here, let alone zebras. So he ignored them as he looked for a hotel or an inn or a tent or a stable or whatever the hell these country ponies used for their guests.

But long before he found a place where he'd have to pay to stay, La Croix wandered across a house that looked like it had been abandoned: no one had tended to the dying lawn for at least a month from the growth, and one of the windows was boarded shut. The whole thing had an air of desolation about it... and La Croix looked quickly back and forth before he grinned slightly to himself and then whistled innocently as he calmly walked past the house, then slipped quickly behind a tree to hide.

Once he was absolutely sure there was no one watching, he crept quickly through the yard, darting through the bushes and slinking through the tall grass until he reached the side of the ramshackle house. He looked back and forth, then chuckled to himself before he carefully turned and peered through a dirty, unprotected window into an abandoned kitchen. “Parfait.”

La Croix took another quick look around to make sure no one was watching, and then he slowly, carefully wedged the window up until he was able to hop forwards, reaching through and cursing as he lodged himself in the window. His hind legs kicked a few times as he pulled himself overtop the sink with a wheeze, cursing under his breath before he managed to fling himself into the kitchen with a loud thump.

The zebra hopped up to his hooves, looking over his shoulder before his ears swiveled as he peered back into the house. But there was a thick layer of dust on everything, and the stallion thought he could faintly smell the reek of rotting garbage... so after a moment, he nodded and relaxed a little, muttering: “Ain't no palace, but it'll do for a nap.”

La Croix only gave the house a quick look over: the moment he found a bed and some chewed-up blankets, he flung himself down on it, hat and all. The Loa grumbled to himself as he rolled onto his back... and then he scowled at the ceiling, grumbling: “The hell ain't I asleep yet? This is how it works, right? I just lay me down and I go to sleep. And that be that.”

He halted, then sighed and rubbed at his face slowly, realizing... this whole mortal thing was maybe just a little more complicated then he had thought. He was still hungry, but apples tasted awful and apparently right now, taste was winning over his need for food. He felt exhausted from all this constant walking around, but it seemed like he was missing something, because he wasn't asleep yet. From what he knew, mortals just flopped down in their beds, and then poof, they were asleep.

The Loa grumbled under his breath as he wiggled back and forth, and then he groaned before looking at the ceiling and complaining: “Bondye, ain't this bad enough? Ain't I deserve some reward? I mean, hell, the day ain't even over yet and already here I am, found these ponies, gonna find out what the hell is wrong with the cycle...”

The zebra scowled a bit, flopping over on his side and muttering: “Bet it has to do with that Twilight Sparkle, though... she a cocodril. Gonna be even worse if those other two be here, too... gonna have to keep my guard up.”

He nodded firmly to himself a few times, then kicked absently at the air before rolling back and forth grumpily, mumbling: “Ain't fair though. Ain't right, neither. I know what I gotta do, though... I gotta get me some ingredients. I gotta...”

La Croix scowled at the ceiling, crossing his forelegs and mumbling: “No. I don't need the help of mademoiselle vielle. That be crazy talk, crazy thoughts, I don't even know what made me think something so fou.”

He shook his head fiercely, then grumbled under his breath before reaching into his cape and pulling out the bag of coins from the hidden inner pocket, bouncing it slowly on his hoof and letting his eyes slip closed thoughtfully. “Now let's see here. We got enough money to make us some more cash... we got some nasty apples we gonna have to cook or something... we know that a healer lives nearby, which means there must be some useful plants 'round here. Now we just gotta decide what we gonna do next... after I gets some sleep, I mean.”

La Croix dropped the bag of coins on his chest, then crossed his forelegs and huffed a bit, wondering moodily why it was so damn hard for him to do all these dumb little things that apparently mortal ponies did each and every day without any trouble.

He huffed a little and shook his head again, then shifted uncomfortably as he felt a strange twist run through his body, shivering as a sudden cold bit along his skin. He cursed under his breath, then shook his head briefly before muttering: “No, no... ain't... ain't nothing wrong... I just gotta have a little fais do do...”

“You might wanna think twice about that, La Croix...” whispered a voice, and La Croix's eyes blinked open, before he yelped and sat sharply up when he realized he was no longer laying in a dirty, abandoned house, but now he was in a dark clearing, black trees stretching up towards the dark sky, and two figures seated across from him around a cauldron, both grinning widely as they tossed all variety of ingredients into the huge pot.

La Croix swore under his breath, and then his eyes widened before he leaned forwards and shouted in a strangled voice: “Y'all get the hell out of my mind!”

Mon frère! Don't be so touchy!” laughed one of the figures, and he grinned widely as he easily flicked a hoof out, a green bonfire bursting to life beneath the cauldron as La Croix winced, then hurriedly flung himself out of bed before gritting his teeth, puffing out his chest, and stalking towards his two fellow Loa.

He did his best not to show that their presence, now of all times, made him a little nervous: even if Cimetaire and Samedi were brothers to him – as brotherly as spirits could be, that was – it wasn't like family meant a whole lot here. After all, it hadn't been until the axe had been about to cut off his damn head that they had finally asked Bondye to show a bit of mercy. And he had the feeling that they were greatly enjoying his newly-demoted status.

La Croix stopped at the other side of the cauldron, then groaned and grabbed his stomach as he smelled the cloying, delicious smell flowing out of it. “Y'all are making my favorite gumbo here!”

“It's only in your mind, but... hey, feed the senses, feed the body.” teased the better-dressed of the pair: Baron Samedi. He had a posh hat with a feather sticking out of it, and almost a full, flowing suit over his body, with a long-tailed jacket and all kinds of glimmering buckles and buttons. He had the same kind of patterning as La Croix as well: a skull-like pattern over his face, white stripes like bones cutting through his black hide.

But he was much neater, much more elegant. La Croix, really, was the least well-dressed of all of them: Cimetaire was somewhere between the two, with his silk jacket and scarf, and that damned skull-topped cane he insisted on lugging around everywhere. Cimetaire was also currently grinning at him, and La Croix scowled before he reached out and shoved a hoof into his nose, making him wrinkle up his muzzle. “Sorry, mon frère. I thought I'd lost you beneath that grande chapeau of yours.”

“Now careful, La Croix. We all be in a unique position here. We all Loa, but you also like a mortal right now: you push me a little too hard, I might be tempted to see what your cauchemars be like.” replied Cimetaire pointedly, giving a thin smile to the abrasive zebra.

“And you know, you do owe us now. We went against Bondye for you, mon frère. That means you should give us a little bit of respect.” Samedi said in his charming voice, gesturing easily out towards La Croix. “Have a bit of humor, mon ami! Or does your stomach rumble that badly for a bit of gumbo? But I wouldn't think that you would have so much trouble even finding food.”

“Food, no. Edible food on the other hoof, that be a completely different story.” La Croix grumbled, then he peered longingly into the cauldron, fearless of the emerald flames leaping and licking along the sides of the pot as he leaned against it and licked his lips slowly. “Just gimme a taste, huh? Just a little something to tide me over. You know how hard it's been for me? You know how dumb these ponies be?”

Samedi only gave him a wry look, and Cimetaire sniffed before he couldn't help but remark: “Oh, La Croix, look at you now... you're rhyming just like that shaman cow.”

“Hey! Don't you go sayin' that, I ain't rhyming none!” La Croix snapped in an offended voice, glaring between his brothers before he asked grumpily: “And how in the name of sweet Bondye did y'all know about that, anyway? Don't you two got somethin' better to do?”

“Oh no, you see, for speaking out against monsieur Bondye, we've been given a special assignment for the month. The other minor Loa and spirits of the otherworld can handle our usual tasks... instead, we have to make sure that you don't go ruining things.” replied Samedi pleasantly, giving a slight smile. “And of course, we'll be there to clean up if you happen to... mettre du désordre.”

There was silence for a few moments, and then La Croix bared his teeth as he leaned slowly forwards, asking in a low, dangerous voice: “Are y'all saying you don't trust me to get my job done?”

“Nonsense. I'm sayin' Bondye don't trust you to get the job done... and of course, I just do what the boss tells me. I ain't like you, La Croix. I ain't an arrogant little connard, going out of my way to make everyone around me furieux.” Baron Samedi said pleasantly, reaching across the cauldron to gently bop the end of La Croix's muzzle.

La Croix ground his teeth together, and then Cimetaire added mildly: “Besides, of course eyes are watching. There'll always be eyes watchin', though, La Croix... and you seem to forget that we like to show a certain style in the things we do.”

The Loa-made-mortal only snorted, shaking his head and shoving himself backwards before he grumbled: “I got style, I got class, I be the mieux of the mieux, y'all hear me?”

“We hear you, La Croix. But just like those ouaouarons you claim to hate so much , you're a singing your song without no regard for the reality around you.” Baron Samedi said kindly, shaking his head slowly before he added pleasantly: “Look at yourself, boo. You're dirty and dog-tired already, and you keep ramblin' on about what a mighty Loa you are to everyone in earshot... but you ain't that no more. You keep singing your laments, though, tell us all 'bout how the world's so unfair, how justice ain't been done...”

“Sure, and we do that justice back upon you, mon frère.” added Cimetaire in a colder voice, the Loa licking his lips slowly before he plucked up his cane from where it was stuck in the ground beside him, hammering the silver head of the walking stick against the cauldron. “And have you stopped to wonder, mon ami, what's gonna happen to you if you fail?”

La Croix scowled... then yelped and flung himself to the ground when a claw tore out of the surface of the gumbo, his eyes bulging as he scrambled backwards, whimpering weakly as several smoky, ethereal demons crawled out of the pot, leaving trails of ice and smoke behind them as he shouted: “Oh no, no no no, not there not there!”

“Oh yes. Bondye don't like Nanny Hel none, La Croix... but he don't like you even more.” Cimetaire said pleasantly, grinning and gesturing easily towards the fuming, freezing, formless demons as they eagerly stalked through the muck towards La Croix. “So he says... if you fail... you ain't gonna just get kicked out of Darkwater, powerless and mortal.”

“The demons will hunt you, La Croix. The demons will eat you, La Croix, and if you lucky enough to wake up... it's gonna be in Helheim.” finished Baron Samedi almost gently, and La Croix shook his head wildly in denial.

“No, no! Keep away! I don't done nothing wrong!” La Croix wailed, and then he yelled and spun around when the demons dove at him, covering his head with his hooves and clenching his eyes shut, curling helplessly up as he felt mud and ice and death and worse...

And then... there was nothing. La Croix blinked stupidly and sat up, hat toppling off his head and bouncing off the edge of the bed before he grabbed wildly at himself, then wheezed loudly in relief, slumping a bit and muttering: “Y'all are jerks.”

He shivered a bit, then rubbed slowly at his head before taking a few slow, calming breaths. He shook his head briefly, then cursed under his breath as he saw not only his hat, but his bag fallen to the ground and spilled open, its contents glimmering over the dusty floor.

The zebra grumbled and hopped out of the bed, picking his hat up and quickly brushing it off before he tossed it into the air. Then he turned his attention towards picking up the coins, his hat landing on his head as he grumbled under his breath.

But he couldn't get those images out of his mind... he couldn't believe that he wasn't just mortal, but so mortal that his fellow Loa could get inside his head and play all their nasty tricks on him, just like they did with anyone who tried to weasel out of a bargain with them.

And worse, if he screwed this up, they were going to send him to the one place he feared more than dying. La Croix shivered a little as he picked up the bag of coins, kneading it in his hooves as he shook his head before mumbling: “I ain't... I ain't done nothin' wrong, though. This how life works: either you a sucker, or you the guy leading the suckers on. Ain't nothing more complicated than that.”

La Croix shook his head quickly, then he tossed the bag of coins into one of the pockets of his cape before he strode out of the bedroom, tossing one last, nervous look at the bed behind him. He knew that Samedi and Cimetaire weren't going to miss any chance they got to make his life hell now: even if they might not entirely want him dead, they sure as mud wanted him to look as stupid as possible. He might be able to count on the 'help' of the Loa in a pinch, but... there would always be a cost. And they were going to take a whole lot of pleasure in pulling his strings.

The Loa swore under his breath as he stormed through the abandoned house, then he kicked it open without thinking... and found himself almost face-to-face with a pony with a mustache, a large hat, and a badge pinned to his vest.

The two looked at each other for a few moments, and then La Croix snapped: “What are you looking at, standing there, dumb as a moochon? Get out of my way or I bring down a hex on you, make it so you ain't just as ugly and stupid as a mashwarohn, you as floppy, too!”

There was silence for a few moments, and then the pony slowly narrowed his eyes, and La Croix huffed before asking flatly: “That ol' stink eye supposed to scare me? All that bothers me 'bout it be your damn face.”

La Croix grinned widely... that was, until two more ponies in uniform appeared. His grin faded ever so slightly, before the zebra yelped and tried to turn too late when the three ponies leapt on top of him. And the zebra was shocked at how easily they overpowered him and squashed him down into the ground, two of them pinning him flat while the mustached pony glared down in his face.

“You, stranger, are under arrest for breaking and entering, being a public menace, and anything else I can think of! Boys, let's take him downtown.” ordered the pony, and La Croix mouthed wordlessly, looking up at the stallion with horror.

But before he could babble out any excuses, the other two police ponies dragged him quickly backwards, then flung him into the open back of a wagon. La Croix bounced through it with a yelp before hitting the back wall with a loud thud, then he looked up with horror as the door slammed shut and left him in stupefied darkness.