• 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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How To Provoke A Lynch Mob

Chapter Four: How To Provoke A Lynch Mob
~BlackRoseRaven

La Croix scowled horribly around Zecora's hut. Sure, everything was organized, there were potions and ingredients galore, and he saw plenty of useful protective charms and doodads but... everything was so damn primitive. “Hey, mademoiselle vielle. Is that ivory? I bet it would fetch a high price... you know, if it weren't illegal. But hey, who cares 'bout them damn horn-faces? They ain't nothing but big dumb brutes anyhow!”

Zecora sighed tiredly from outside, where she was preparing a pot of stew in a smaller firepit, and then she called moodily back: “The ivory you see was given freely. It was given while we performed their funeral rites, ideally.”

“Huh.” La Croix shoved himself away from the table, wooden chair screeching along the floor before he leaned back and poked absently at one of the masks on the wall, which looked suspiciously... happy. Not to mention a little bit malformed. “I don't like this one. This one be smilin' at me funny. I think he fou. Or at least faux.”

“My pony friends don't really understand the meaning of these masks... they made me one or two as gifts after helping them with a few odd tasks.” Zecora sounded the faintest bit awkward and defensive: it made La Croix grin as he easily lifted the imitation mask off the wall, realizing now why it was in such a weird place compared to the rest. “It... they meant their best by it, to be sure... I know their intentions really were pure...”

Zecora shook her head, then she muttered more to herself than La Croix, as she gave the stew a few last stirs: “Still, I wonder how they'd feel if I made a Celestia doll; one that resembled more a clown than her at all...”

The zebra healer sighed a little, then she carefully picked up the cauldron by its thick rope handle, carrying it around in a circle to bring it inside. She glanced over at La Croix as she stepped through the doorway... then stumbled to a stop before glaring at the Loa horribly. “Even if it's a bad imitation... that is still a rude degradation.”

“What?” La Croix asked innocently, the almost-smiling mask strapped over his face and the stallion sitting placidly with his hooves in his lap. “I ain't doin' nothing wrong, I swear. You don't wanna go celebratin' false idols and all that, right? Speakin' as a Loa myself, we don't like it when y'all go pretending some golden goose is as slick and fancy as we are.”

Zecora only shook her head moodily, then she walked over to the table and put the pot of stew on it before saying pointedly: “You'll have to take that off to eat. Now please just wait a moment in your seat.”

The mare turned away, and La Croix grumbled before pulling the mask off and quickly putting his hat back on his head, complaining: “Look, it's been three damn days. I don't like it here. I don't like you much, neither. Why do you think that if I set hoof in Ponyville, I gonna get flayed alive?”

“There's just something about your personality my friend, that makes others want to bring your life to a miserable end.” Zecora replied candidly, and La Croix grumbled under his breath before the zebra returned with a pair of wooden bowls and spoons.

She served them both, and then the two ate in silence: Zecora enjoyed the food, but La Croix only chewed despondently, hating that he couldn't taste it, he couldn't smell it, he couldn't even feel the texture. And he hated that he was so damn reliant on this annoying rhyming priestess as well: sure, originally, he'd been determined not to so much as breathe around anything she'd offered him.

Then he'd realized that he had no clue what the hell he could actually eat in this forest. And worse than that, he wouldn't be able to smell or taste if something was rotten, poisoned, overripe, or just plain gross.

So he had no real choice but to trust the priestess... then again, she was a priestess. He didn't know precisely a priestess of what, but he figured she wouldn't go trying to poison and kill him. He was both a guest and a spirit who was kind of distantly-related to the spirits she had contact with, so killing him would probably not reflect very nicely on her. Or so he hoped.

But she was letting him stay here, and her hut, while... primitive... was well-protected against the elements and, better yet, against supernatural intrusion. He had been able to actually sleep here, under the safety of the runes and the talismans and the dreamcatchers...

Hesitantly, La Croix's eyes flicked towards her, and Zecora gave him a curious look in return. But the Loa only shrugged a bit before he mumbled out: “Guess it's... edible tonight. Ain't crunching in my teeth like last night. Y'went a bit heavy on the beetles yesterday.”

“I tried not to use as many tonight. Mostly because watching you chew is a horrible sight.” Zecora replied equably, and then the mare sighed a little before asking finally: “Do you want to talk about... what I've figured out?”

La Croix snorted at this, then he poked moodily at his stew before muttering: “What's there even to talk about? I know what I gotta do, stop the tampering with the Great Balance. Which means I gotta deal with this Twilight Sparkle.”

Zecora sighed a little, saying with clear irritation: “Please try not to phrase it like that, she's not a rabbit for you to smother with your hat.”

The stallion huffed at this, raising his head and replying grouchily: “Hey, I gonna do what I gotta do, you hear me? If I gotta kill her, so be it. And you really gonna tell me that her life is more important than the cycle, mademoiselle vielle?

Zecora bit the inside of her cheek, looking away, and La Croix nodded firmly... even as he felt some odd internal wobble at the look on the mare's face. So after a moment, he added finally: “But I guess that wouldn't really help a whole lot. Some other pony probably just pick up where she left off, stir up the swamp all over again. Damn ouaouarons.”

The priestess smiled over at him, nodding slowly in approval and agreement, and La Croix sighed before dropping his head sulkily, muttering: “I can't believe this, though. I wanted to avoid her and those other crazy ponies. They be dangereux.”

He looked moodily into his stew, stirring it slowly as he went over what Zecora had told him: that Princess Twilight Sparkle was conducting magic experiments at some place called Canterlot, trying to breach the space-time continuum to prove some theory about parallel worlds. Since Canterlot wasn't all that far away, and Twilight Sparkle apparently regularly spent her time here in Ponyville, La Croix was willing to bet that was what he was supposed to stop.

That, and if she ripped a hole in reality, she could let in... Bondye knew what. Or maybe the problem was Bondye didn't know what: imagine if instead of connecting to some parallel world, she instead tore a path to Heaven... or Helheim. Oh, the ponies thought Tartarus was bad, they thought ghosts and goblins were scary, they thought the stories of fire-and-brimstone Hell were bad... wait until they saw the place that crazy old Nanny Hel ruled over, then they'd know scary!

“Nanny Hel probably the one who tricked her into makin' this... came to her in a dream, made her demons whisper in her ear... I don't like that salope à sang-froid.” La Croix muttered, poking grumpily at his stew before he pushed the bowl away, grumbling: “I ain't hungry.”

“You are so, you're just upset... but come on, don't give up hope yet.” Zecora said quietly, and La Croix glowered at her. But the priestess was undeterred, adding in almost a gentle voice: “Isn't this all just a test? Are you really surprised you cannot rest?”

The stallion grumbled under his breath at this, and then he said sourly: “Look, priestess. You the one with the 'in' with the ponies. And now not even you can get a word in edgewise with this princess pony. So how the hell am I supposed to get to her in three weeks?”

“Three weeks is plenty of time for us to figure out a plan. And I'm sure Twilight will return to Ponyville for part of that span. We'll catch her when she's at home, don't fear that. Now come on, La Croix, don't look like a wet cat.” Zecora replied kindly.

La Croix, however, only scowled almost suspiciously at the zebra before he shook his head moodily. And as the night went on, his mood only deteriorated further, until he finally went to sleep.

Nightmares plagued him, something La Croix hadn't expected: but it wasn't Samedi and Cimetaire pulling the strings behind these bad dreams, but his own poisonous thoughts. And when morning came, he was tired and exhausted, and time felt like it was sand slipping through his hooves, impossible for him to catch, impossible for him to stop.

Zecora invited him to come pick herbs with her, but La Croix only shook his head vehemently and sulked. So she left him to pace around the hut, but La Croix barely noticed he was alone, and even paging through all of the priestess' things couldn't distract him from what was feeling more and more like his inevitable doom.

That afternoon, Zecora returned with her bags loaded down with herbs and ingredients, feeling relaxed... that was, until she opened the door and found that La Croix had almost worn a rut into the floors with his constant pacing. He had also overturned her cauldron, rearranged all the potions on the shelves, ruined her bed, and left several drawers of her dresser open, letting her know that he had clearly been rummaging through everything she had asked him not to. Oh, sure, she was used to him making a mess while she was gone, but this...

The mare took a slow breath... but in spite of her frustration, the first thing she asked was a surprisingly-calm question, out of genuine worry for him: “What's wrong, my strange friend? You look like you've seen your wit's end.”

“I have. Dammit, I have!” the Loa snapped, rounding suddenly on the mare, who blinked and reared back in surprise. “The hell am I doing here with you, chaoui? You enjoying this, keeping me here, cooped up in this damn mud-hut? You enjoying my pain, the thought that when our familles went their separate ways so long ago now, you stupid savages done kept your heads above the water while mine got drowned in the bayou?”

“La Croix, what are you-” Zecora began, but the stallion grabbed her cauldron and flung it backwards, cutting her off with a clang.

“Oh, ta gueule!” La Croix snapped, glaring at her furiously, shaking with childish anger and frustration and... yes, mental anguish, she thought. “Enough of your damn rhymes! Enough of your damn niceness! Y'ain't nothing but a con, a damn stupid chaoui out to steal all the damn glory for yourself! I been too damn nice-”

“You've been nice? You've been like ice!” Zecora snapped in response, cutting him off as she stepped forwards and gestured sharply around at her home. “La Croix, stop it and get yourself in check. I know you're frustrated but that's no reason to turn my home into a wreck!”

La Croix growled at this, then he turned and attempted to swipe one of the potions off the shelf, opening his mouth to shout something... but in his anger, he yanked too hard on a bottle lodged tightly into the rack, and instead he ended up jerking the entire shelf over, the Loa yelping as it smashed into him on the way down and knocked him rolling into the fire pit in the center of the hut.

The stallion twitched a bit on the ground, his hat rolling slowly past him as he lay in a senseless heap, while Zecora stared in horror at the destroyed shelf and its shattered contents, a foul-smelling pool of countless mixed potions and ingredients spreading slowly beneath the broken wooden rack.

La Croix awkwardly picked himself up, brushing himself off and picking up his hat to carefully settle back on his head. Then he looked lamely over at the broken shelf before giving a weak grin and turning his eyes towards Zecora as he said awkwardly: “Damn thing nearly cut my head. Guess then we would have really been havin' a tête à tête, non?

The priestess slowly clenched her eyes shut, then she ground her teeth together painfully before stepping backwards and pointing angrily away from her house. La Croix stared at her, and then Zecora opened her eyes and growled: “Get. Out.”

“Hey, you didn't rhyme.” La Croix blurted in a surprised voice, and then he cowered when the priestess stomped on the ground, learning forwards and glaring furiously at him.

“I didn't rhyme, no! Now get out! Get out of my house, La Croix, get out of my life, and you can triumph or fail on your own terms, sordid little boy!” shouted the mare angrily, and La Croix tried to shrink his head between his shoulders like a turtle, whimpering beneath his hat. “Get out, out, out of my house, out of my life! I have given and given and given to you, Loa, to serve the cycle, to honor the spirits, to try and be a good person, but you are nothing more than an ignorant, thankless little child and it was stupid of me to expect you could be anything else! I will help you no more! Out!”

La Croix wanted to give some biting retort, some witty comeback, snap off something that would put this stupid mortal in her place... and then his lower lip trembled, and his chest tightened up, and all he could do was lower his head in shame, brim of his hat covering his eyes and his throat so dry and taut he didn't dare speak.

He silently strode past Zecora, who was fuming and furious and disappointed and he was so... he was so... he hurt, in an awful, awful way. He hadn't even felt this way when he'd been thrown out by Bondye and... that didn't make any goddamn sense, did it? Why the hell should he care what this priestess thought? She was just some stupid zebra that he shouldn't even have wasted his time with... who sullied him just by being near him...

Zecora stepped past and slammed her door, and La Croix looked silently over his shoulder, biting the inside of his cheek before he gritted his teeth and turned around. Something got in his eye: he didn't know what, but he didn't have the time to try and wipe it away, either, as his eyes watered before tears cascaded down his cheeks. As he stomped angrily away, he bit his lip, and didn't taste the blood that flowed into his mouth, any more than he felt the sting of pain from that or his bruised shoulder.

He stomped down the path Zecora had showed him, leading back to the village that Zecora had brought him to, when he'd first come into this world and Zecora had found him trying to climb a tree. He walked through Zecora's hoofsteps, smearing them, destroying them, but he knew that Zecora would walk this path again, he knew that this forest was more Zecora's than it would ever be the ponies, that Zecora Zecora Zecora-

La Croix clenched his eyes shut, shaking his head violently before he stopped to rub wildly at his eyes, then he spat a volley of curses before baring his teeth and stomping onwards. No, enough of her. He had wasted enough of his time here and it was time for him to move on.

The Loa stomped down the path, tears drying on his face, hat casting a dark shadow over his eyes as his cape fluttered out behind him. He knew what he would do: he would head to Ponyville, and he would demand to see that princess that apparently wasted all her time in that little neck of the bayou. Then he would use every trick he had to get what he wanted: a little audience with a Princess.

After that, he'd do whatever the hell he had to do to stop her from screwing up his life anymore than she already had. Because if it wasn't because of Princess Twilight Goddamn Sparkle and her stupid friends, he wouldn't be here in the first place.

La Croix reached Ponyville late in the afternoon, having stopped only long enough to pick a few weeds he'd recognized and mix himself up a few things he was rather sure she wouldn't approve of. She being a certain zebra he was refusing to acknowledge whatsoever because she had overreacted to an honest mistake and... that was pointless to think about. She was gone. That was that.

The zebra scowled and shook his head quickly as he walked down the town's dusty streets, brushing off the ponies that tried to greet him or approach him as he headed straight for the library. He had a goal in mind, and he was going to get this over and done with, and then Bondye was going to be happy and this was all going to be over and he would never, ever leave Darkwater, ever again.

He nodded firmly to himself, then halted in the square outside the library, cursing under his breath. He could tell it was empty, even without knocking... but all the same, he walked up to the front door and then hammered viciously on it, shouting: “Hey, I got a bone to pick with you, princesse de magie! Come on out here, viens vite!

There was only silence, and La Croix growled before spinning around... and he grinned icily when he saw he already had an audience, raising his head high as his eyes all-but-glowed, frustrated and maddened and malicious as he snapped: “Good, y'all already here! I might as well go ahead and say what I have to say, then.

“First of all, y'all are stupid!” La Croix snapped, and several ponies gasped in shock. They all stared with something like horror, and more were gathering, looking at him like he was some kind of terrible monster as he continued angrily: “Yeah, you're a whole race of connards! 'Cept that's insulting to connards, with how stupid y'all are!

“Second, I hate each and every single one of you.” La Croix continued in a frustrated voice, then he pointed at a yellow Pegasus in front, the mare whimpering and meekly trying to hide behind her pink mane. “You! Yeah, you! I hate you!”

“I'm sorry.” mumbled the Pegasus, shrinking slowly down until she was almost laying on her stomach, trembling. “I... I don't want... I mean... I don't know but... oh, I'm sorry...”

“Oh, sorry, are you, darlin'?” La Croix asked in a falsely-sweet voice, and the Pegasus nodded a few times, looking up at him almost tearfully before she squeaked when the zebra leapt forwards and almost shoved his face into hers, shouting: “Well, now I hate you even more, you lâche!

The mare whimpered, and then another pony snapped: “Hey, you can't talk to her like that!”

“Then I talk to you like that!” La Croix retorted sharply, turning towards the orange earth pony that had spoken and making her wince back in surprise as he shoved his face into hers. “Look at you, hayseed, you ain't just dumb, you ugly too! And you ain't doin' no one no favors by wearin' that hat around and showin' off how proud you is of bein' a hick even by this here Hicksville's standards!”

There were more shouts and yells, and then La Croix turned around with a sneer: unseen to any of the ponies, in spite of the fact they were glaring at him, he reached into his cape and calmly pulled out what looked like a wallet of leaves. “Yeah, yeah, boo-hoo-hoo, y'all go ahead and cry. But y'ain't gonna do a damn thing, you gonna sit there, shut up, and do what I say!”

Ponies shouted, and a few even stepped forwards... and then La Croix slammed his hoof down, and there was a burst of smoke and light and a roar like thunder. And immediately, the ponies fell all over each other in terror as La Croix stepped forwards to hide the ashy remains of his trickery.

La Croix grinned widely as black and purple smog rose slowly around him, his eyes all but glowing as the ponies stared at the zebra with horror. And then he spoke again, drawing their attention to his face while his other hoof slipped up, taking a much smaller, folded leaf out of his cape. “You listen to me, and y'all listen good. I be a Loa... any of y'all know what that is?”

He saw terror written across the faces of the imbecile ponies, he saw that they were barely able to process what had just happened, let alone what he had said, so La Croix chuckled and exaggerated: “It means I be a spirit du mort! That's right, I dabble in souls, I bring life... I bring death!

La Croix accented the last by stomping down, sending out a loud whipcrack of sound: it lacked the smoke and sparks, but it was more than enough to make the ponies jump and clutch at each other in terror. Some hit the ground, others reared back, and all of them were nothing but putty in his capable hooves, ready to gobble down any of the mush he spoon-fed them.

And La Croix reveled in it, grinning widely before he laughed again as he spun around, making a wide gesture outwards with one hoof... while the other snuck under his cape, palming another trap out as he said coldly: “Now, y'all listen here to me. I need to have a little word with a certain Twilight Sparkle, and I figure at least one of y'all must have a way to contact her. And if y'all don't contact her, I'm gonna burn down your entire village. I'm gonna stuff your kids like dindons and marinate the rest of you like porc! I'm gonna cut y'all up and throw you in my gumbo!”

The zebra spun back towards them, and the ponies scampered in every direction to get away from him... but they didn't stray too far, oh no. They were as enthralled with him as they were scared, like animals caught in the headlamp of an oncoming train. They were helpless, and he gloried in that taste of his old, lost power.

He saw them, terrified, and he grinned as he stomped forwards again, setting off another bang and a faint flare of light as several sparks flew. They yelled and panicked, and he laughed loudly at them, leaning forwards and shouting: “That's right! You bow to me, bow before me!”

La Croix laughed again, sweeping his forelegs up through his cape, feeling vindictive joy as the ignorant masses cowered before him... and yet part of him was still hurting. He still felt like there was a hook in his heart, yanking and pulling in every direction, and the Loa swore under his breath before he gritted his teeth, raising his head and shouting as he dropped both hooves down in front of himself: “Alright, listen up!”

They all looked up at him, fearful, ready to do anything he said without any further encouragement, and La Croix glared balefully out over the crowd, suddenly... disappointed. Here he was, bullying simple-minded pony-folk who would probably believe him if he pretended to pull their noses off their faces. What pride was there to be had in that? He was supposed to be a master of deception, a Loa messenger who carried spirits and twisted the wishes of kings and devils, not... not some street charlatan trying to cheat enough coins for a decent meal!

He glared at them angrily, frustrated that they couldn't even offer a decent distraction. Their fault, not his: he couldn't control the fact he was so damn good at this little game. It wasn't his fault that... things happened that he couldn't control, that he happened to push a little too hard here or there and something bad happened and...

The Loa shook his head vehemently, then he swore under his breath as he looked out over the ponies. Yeah, they were boring him now... and if he didn't send them off soon, they'd ask questions, anyway. But... hell, why not try to give himself one last smile?

La Croix rose both his hooves high, slipping two more of the leaf-wrapped bundles out of his cape as he did so. He rose them to the sky, but he knew the ponies couldn't see the little explosives from where they were all cowering before him. Not with how panicked they were, not with how in control he was. And the zebra grinned to himself as he looked up towards the sky, thundering out: “I'm here to find a certain pony... and all y'all gonna find her for me, or I'm gonna call down the tonnerre!

He stomped both hooves savagely down, and there was a double-boom as the miniature explosives went off... but this time, La Croix yelped as one seared his foreleg with an unexpected flash of sparks, the stallion rearing dumbly back in surprise and looking down at his singed hoof before he waggled it dumbly back and forth.

He scowled a bit, then glared up over the ponies, raising his other hoof quickly, trying to pose as if he was about to weave some dark and dangerous magic. The ponies were still staring at him, but they seemed less frightened now, and more stunned, and La Croix cursed before he waggled his hooves and snapped: “Y'all better show me a bit more respect, or... or...”

La Croix scowled a bit as he felt a strange, growing heat, and then he blinked before looking down in horror as he saw the edge of his cape had caught on fire. He screeched and immediately began to stomp wildly on the hem, but then he manage to tangle his limbs in the fabric, not only ripping it but sending himself flopping to the ground on top of the burning cape.

He squawked and rolled back and forth, flailing wildly and sending burnt tatters of his torn clothing in all directions as he suffocated the flames more by accident than anything else. Then he fell still, breathing hard and staring up at the sky miserably, wondering what the hell else could go wrong.

There was a popping sound, and La Croix yelped as several objects shot out of an inner pocket of his cape and flew into the air. La Croix had a moment to stare in horror up at this, mouthing slowly... and then he covered his face with a squawk as all variety of other objects shot up towards the sky, seeming to appear out of nowhere as they were ejected from his enchanted cape. Glass vials, metal tools, and various salves and potions and powders and several more of his flash bombs all vomited up above him... and then fell back in a hail over his body and crashed to the ground around him.

Several of the leafy bundles exploded as heavier things landed on them, while others just bounced across the ground: but the flashes and claps of thunder distracted La Croix much less than the flasks and grindstones and various other trinkets did as they fell in a hard rain over his body. All he could do was curl up and swear loudly until the hail ended.

Finally, after a few moments where nothing else fell on him, La Croix awkwardly sat up with his torn cape hanging loosely from his neck by a broken buckle, his hat lopsided on his head. He grimaced a bit... then stared as a pony slowly stepped forwards and carefully picked up one of his bombs, studying it intently.

Then the eyes of the ponies slowly turned back towards him, and La Croix paled a bit even as he gave a weak grin, raising his hooves as he saw their gazes hardening, as they realized he was a trickster, a charlatan, a fraud... “F-Friends! Mes amis! I... I can explain!”

The ponies traded looks between themselves as the mob slowly converged forwards, becoming like one large, living entity, and La Croix scrambled backwards to his hooves, wincing as he tripped over his fallen trinkets, hooves flinching as he staggered through broken glass and scattered ingredients, the zebra giggling shrilly as he looked back and forth and said almost desperately: “Hey, I ever tell y'all how much I like your village? And... hey, I'm... still looking for that princess! But... but more of a friendly suggestion, that was all more of a friendly suggestion, I was just pulling a little prank, having a little bit of fun... hey, laissez les bon temps rouler, am I right?”

La Croix stumbled a bit and almost fell over, tossing a look over his shoulder and trembling at the sight of the locked door of the library. Nowhere to go there... and now the mob of ponies was advancing. And there were very few stunned or scared ponies now... now he saw angry ponies, glaring ponies, furious ponies...

“Hey, that's right! He wanted to hurt Twilight!” shouted a voice from the crowd, and La Croix gave a strangled laugh as he shook his head violently, hurriedly raising his front hooves and waving them wildly back and forth.

“N-No, no! I just wanted to talk to her, honest! I... y'all promised you'd help me find her already, remember that? Can't break a promise now...” La Croix's eyes darted back and forth as cold sweat rolled down his face, and then he gritted his teeth before raising a hoof and shouting, fueled by desperation more than any real anger he could dredge up: “Hey, you better listen to me or I swear that I'll be callin' up some zombies to-”

A rock smacked into La Croix's skull, knocking him crosseyed as his head swayed to the side with a squeak, and then he hurriedly reached up and caught his hat, yanking it back onto his head before it could topple away. But even if he managed to hold onto his hat – hell, even if he managed to dig anything useful out of his damn hat – there was no way he was getting away from all these crazy, angry ponies.

Someone shouted at him: it was less words, more just raw anger. And another pony shouted. And soon, the whole mob was yelling at him as they advanced more brazenly, stomping his trinkets, crushing all the herbs and plants that he'd harvested or 'borrowed' from... that zebra. And oh, hell, was he really wishing for her of all the goddamn zebras in the world right now? Was he really so pathetic his last thoughts...

No, no, dammit, no, he wasn't thinking his last thoughts yet! He'd gotten out of worse than this before and he was going to get out of this, too, with a little smooth thinking, as he looked wildly back and forth before his eyes widened and he pointed sharply to the left.

“What the hell is that?” he shouted in disbelief, and almost the entire mob of ponies turned to look in the direction the zebra had pointed. There was nothing there, though... and when the group of ponies looked back, the zebra was gone.

Then a voice shouted from the crowd, and hooves pointed wildly at the zebra, who was fleeing as fast as he possibly could, his eyes wide with terror as he bolted down the street. The mob roared, then Pegasi leapt to the air and the earthbound ponies almost trampled each other as they charged after the fleeing zebra.

La Croix ducked down an alley, but some annoying Pegasus above zipped past in a streak of colors and shouted out his location, the zebra swearing almost non-stop as he immediately turned a corner and attempted to get out of sight. But there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and La Croix knew that the moment these ponies got their hooves on him they were going to put him into a world of hurt. And whether they killed him or just beat him to a pulp, it wouldn't matter.

There was no way they were going to let him near their princess now. There was no way he was going to get near Canterlot, unless they decided to drag his carcass there after they finished making him into catfish slaw.

He bolted around a corner, continuing to swear loudly the entire time before he squeaked and ducked when a Pegasus dove at him. Then a second shot down and kicked him hard in the rump, knocking him sprawling out of the alley and onto a dirt road, and La Croix cursed before scrambling to his hooves and bolting for it, just before several more Pegasi shot down to yell and curse at him.

He was lucky they weren't more organized: if they had been, there was no doubt he would have been easily snatched up by them and quickly beaten to a pulp. The zebra shot a fearful look over his shoulder, staggering only a little before he looked ahead and put all his effort into sprinting as hard and fast as he could, yelling one last ragged curse before he skidded around a corner and onto another wide street.

Several Pegasi were flying close behind him, while he could hear the other ponies yelling and shouting as they charged en masse after him. And he was becoming very quickly aware of the other constraints of this mortal form, like how he was getting sore and tired, how he could feel these weak muscles in this weak mortal body already starting to give out...

He gritted his teeth, stumbling even as he ran as fast and hard as he could, but try as he might, he was flagging and gasping for breath, his lungs aching, his body pulsing, his eye twitching as he spat swears and felt a weird rubbery sensation he'd never felt before spreading rapidly through his body.

La Croix yelped as he almost fell forwards, then he looked quickly to the side before baring his teeth and flinging himself forwards with a gasp to narrowly avoid being tackled by a Pegasus. But he lost his footing, hitting the ground on his face and skidding painfully forwards before barely managing to scramble back to his hooves.

He gasped hard as he bolted onwards, looking wildly back and forth before his maddened eyes caught sight of what he thought might actually be a way out, giving a muffled laugh around the brim of his hat before he shot down the road towards what looked like emptiness and freedom... and then a Pegasus crashed down into the center of his back, driving him flat into the ground and sending him skidding painfully over the earth on his stomach with a whimper.

The Pegasus snarled down at him, shoving him down and pinning him painfully before the pony yelled: “Hey, everypony! He's here! I got him right-”

La Croix reacted out of desperation and instinct, spitting his hat into one hoof and digging wildly in it before he flung the first thing he grabbed back over his shoulder. The flask struck the Pegasus squarely in the face, shattering in a burst of purple liquid and sending the pony flopping off his back with a howl of pain before the zebra leapt hurriedly to his hooves, chomping down on the brim of his hat before he bolted away with a squeal of fear.

But the short delay had allowed the ponies to get him in their sights again: both those above and those over the ground were rushing towards him, and the yelling and screaming of the Pegasus was only inciting their anger all the further. And it terrified him, how frenzied they were getting, how they seemed to be completely tireless in their pursuit while he was whimpering in agony, trying his hardest to keep himself running for the... for the...

La Croix gave a wordless, wounded scream as he saw a narrow ravine ahead, killing his hope of escape. It was probably a narrow enough gap that most ponies could jump across it, but he was so weak and tired he would have to use the bridge... except the goddamn bridge was out, little of it left aside from a pile of wooden slats off to one side and a bit of torn rope.

The zebra skidded to a halt in front of this, then he looked desperately back over his shoulder before turning back towards the ruined bridge. He gritted his teeth, trembling and leaning forwards, trying to make himself take that leap... but his body refused to move, his mind was suddenly seized by fear, his eyes bulging and even the knowledge that there was that furious mob behind him, storming towards him, wanting to hurt him and mangle him and ruin him...

He looked over his shoulder, terrified, seeing the surging crowd of ponies drawing closer and the Pegasus shooting down from the sky towards him like meteors, like feathered devils here to snatch him up and give him a prelude to the hell he knew he was never going to escape because... because... because...

Tears of terror and despair ran down La Croix's face before he screamed as one of the Pegasi dove in, barely ducking under the pony. And when he managed to straighten and look up again, he saw not a horde of angry ponies charging at him, a crowd he could outrun and outsmart and escape, but a surging wave of imps and goblins and monsters eager to tear him apart...

La Croix had never felt terror like this before: he stared at the oncoming rush, his eyes wide with horror, his mouth gaping, his body shivering violently. He felt warmth spreading down his leg but didn't realize he'd pissed himself in terror; he couldn't feel it, any more than he felt the aches in his shoulders, the clenching of his stomach, the burning of his lungs. He only felt terror: stark and all-engulfing and endless terror, before he spun around and howled: “No, no, no!”

It was more by accident than anything else that he staggered forwards, falling more than leaping off the edge of the ravine and into the river. And while it was narrow, the current was strong enough to carry La Croix along, the stallion gasping as he clawed wildly at his hat before his eyes widened in horror as he sank beneath the current, flailing wildly but realizing too late that he had no idea how to swim.

He was dragged under the water, coughing and choking, clutching his hat to his chest as his torn cape wrapped around him, snaring his body like a net. He struggled miserably, flailing one limb out and kicking his legs uselessly through the water, but all he managed to do was spin his body uselessly through the river as he swore... then choked as water rushed into his jaws, the river almost seeming eager to drown him as he shook his head back and forth, staring sightlessly as he screamed helplessly beneath the waves...

And then La Croix landed with a flop on the cold mud, shivering violently before he dug his hooves into the muck as he gave a low, wretched moan. He looked back and forth weakly, then laughed faintly as he saw both Cimetaire and Samedi appear in short gasps of green fire, the zebra asking despondently after only a moment: “So this this how it ends?”

His Loa brothers traded looks, then they both shrugged silently before Samedi said softly: “I dunno, mon frère. You ain't in a good place. I won't lie to you, La Croix... it's gonna take a miracle to save you this time. Why did you do it?”

“I... I didn't...” La Croix trembled, hugging himself tightly before he clenched his eyes shut. “I didn't mean to...”

Cimetaire laughed dryly at this, before he asked in a voice that was almost... disappointed... “You didn't mean to? What y'mean by that, La Croix? You didn't mean to piss 'em all off or you didn't mean to get caught? Or you didn't mean to take a dive into the rivière?

“It was more of a crique, really, just had a little more muscle than usual because of the spring flooding. But I suppose if you can't swim and no one wants to jump in to get you, it don't matter if it's grande or petite... drowned is drowned.” Samedi added meditatively, and then he sighed a little as he looked over at La Croix, adding wryly: “Not a great way to go out though, mon frère. No dignity in it. You didn't stand your ground. You didn't learn.”

“I... I don't know what I did.” La Croix whispered, shaking his head briefly before he looked down, laughing weakly as he stared at the muddy, fertile earth. “I fell. Was my own damn fault, too. This whole time... everything's been my own damn fault, hasn't it? Oui, je suis un connard. And... je suis... fini. Ain't nothing going to save me now. Ain't no one gonna save me now... why would they?”

There was silence for a few moments, and then Cimetaire said softly: “Hey, frère, don't be like that. Ain't the way to go down, is it? You still gotta have some style. You still should show a little bit of class. You still a Loa, right?”

“I dunno. I don't feel like no Loa.” La Croix muttered, then he looked up, turning his eyes back and forth as he saw the trees around their little field rustling, as he heard something breathing through the branches; not wind, but something larger. Something much more frightening. Something cold, and terrible... “They be comin' for me, don't they? The hounds be on my trail already...”

“You know they're greedy.” Samedi said quietly, and then he flicked out his hoof and a green bonfire burst into life in the center of the field, the best-dressed of the three saying calmly: “Come now, all y'all. Huddle in close by the fire. We'll keep your lights burning a little bit longer, La Croix. You still our petit frère, after all.”

La Croix laughed weakly, then he shook his head slowly before dragging himself towards the emerald frame. Every step he took made reality around him vibrate, though: every step was a hard slog that reminded him he was surrounded by water back in reality, his lungs burning with pain, his muscles trembling as if he was fighting to drag twice his weight under ten times as much pressure, his whole body lighting up with a desire to simply surrender and stop, to sit still and just... wait.

But all the same, he forced himself towards the green flames, for once in his life not complaining even as he coughed out water, for once not asking for help... for once, fighting this battle on his own, as his whole body shook, and Cimetaire and Samedi waited for him patiently on either side of the green flames. And he did his best not to look back even as ice spread rapidly through the ground beneath him, as the trees turned to brittle, frozen sticks, as the growls of the demons that wanted to drag him down into the eternal ice of Helheim filled the air...

La Croix came to a halt in front of the green fire, gasping for breath and trembling as he barely managed to stop himself from falling forwards into the eldritch flames. His body quivered as he looked over his shoulder... then he laughed weakly at the sight of the coating of frost now covering the swampy floor behind him, ending only a few inches away from his tail. “They... they ain't got me yet.”

“No, they ain't.” Samedi said softly, and then he shook his head slowly as Cimetaire scowled... but then gave the smallest nod, sighing and looking moodily away. “Close your eyes, La Croix. Rest some. The demons ain't gonna take you yet.”

The waterlogged Loa looked weakly up, coughing a few times... and then he closed his eyes and bowed his head forwards, legs trembling beneath him before they gave out and he collapsed to the ground. He hit with a thud as the world around him went cold, the stallion coughing and choking before his eyes fluttered weakly open...

He felt wet, and cold, and he saw greens and blacks... and a single, ghostly shape standing over him, nothing but blurs and shadows. He tried to speak, tried to whisper something, anything... but a moment later, he was back in darkness, descending into dreamless emptiness where he floated alone, waiting to die. Waiting for the demons to come.

Waiting to pay the price for his sins.